Feb. 13, 2023

Clinician-researcher honoured for contributions to province

Dr. Norman Wong receives Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Medal
Dr. Norman Wong

Dr. Norman Wong, MD, an internationally known clinician-researcher at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine, has been recognized with a Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Medal. The commemorative medal was created to mark the 70th anniversary of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II’s accession the throne and recognizes the significant contributions of recipients.

Wong, a professor in the Departments of Medicine, Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Calgary (UCalgary), who is currently on sabbatical from a career spanning four decades looking at endocrine causes of heart conditions and trying to find ways to prevent and treat them.

Wong is pleased to be recognized.

“I am honoured and humbled to receive this award from the awards committee for doing work that I love to do,” says Wong.

Wong’s postsecondary academic career began in 1971, when he started his undergraduate degree at the University of Calgary. During that time, he developed a special interest in biochemistry and received his BSc degree with honours in 1975.

He went on to complete graduate studies in what was then the new Department of Medical Biochemistry at UCalgary. Wong was one of the first graduates from that program, earning his degree in 1977 under the mentorship of Dr. Gordon Dixon, a world-renowned researcher who is considered a pioneer in chromatin structure. That work sparked Wong’s lifetime interest in the genetic connections to disease.

Wong completed medical school at UCalgary in the 1980s, later specializing in endocrinology at the University of Minnesota before returning to Calgary, where he spent his career treating patients, conducting research and working with students.

His research career centered on studying the interaction between proteins within the cell nucleus that turn genes on and off, specifically on how genes are activated in the presence of disease states.

A specific area of interest is familial hypercholesterolemia, a genetic mutation that causes high levels of LDL cholesterol. The disorder, which impacts about 20,000 Albertans, can cause early heart attacks in individuals as young as in their 30s.   

Wong developed a clinic dedicated to the care of patients with this disorder. A large component of the clinic involved tracking the mutation in families to catch it early to improve and prolong the lives of individuals with the defective gene and delay the onset of cardiovascular disease.

During his career, Wong received about $4.7 million in funding from numerous sources, including the Canadian Institute of Health Research, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, and the Alberta Heritage Foundation for Medical Research. He published more than 150 articles in peer-reviewed journals and presented more than 120 abstracts at international and national scientific meetings.

While conducting funded studies in the laboratory, the work undertaken by Wong’s team led to the discovery that disruption of a basic cellular mechanism can be achieved with a class of novel molecules.  This disruption of the cell’s basic function may be applied to the treatment of many diseases including those arising from the cardiovascular, metabolic or cancerous origin.

Wong held numerous academic positions at the University of Calgary during his career. He was assistant dean of research for the Faculty of Medicine, associate vice-president of research and international, and director of the Libin Gene/Cell Therapy unit.   

Dr. Robert Rose, PhD, deputy director for the Libin Cardiovascular Institute, says Wong was well deserving of the medal.  

“We are thrilled to see Dr. Wong recognized with this award,” says Rose. “Dr. Wong’s scientific contributions over the last four decades have been substantial and highly impactive. This Queen Elizabeth II’s Platinum Jubilee Medal is a recognition of these outstanding efforts.”