Dr Lakshman Gunaratnam: Rising from Adversity

Dr Lakshman Gunaratnam, MSc, MD, a resident in internal medicine in Ottawa, is the winner of the prestigious 2005 Canadian Specialty Research Award for Residents, Division of Medicine, awarded by the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, which provides national recognition for original work in medical research: his studies on the molecular mechanisms involved in renal cancer.  He is to be honoured at the Royal College’s annual conference in Vancouver in September.

In the meantime, he is set to go to Harvard University in Boston, to do a combined clinical and research fellowship in nephrology awarded by the university in 2004.  His research will focus on immunology and transplant biology, to explore how a rejection response can be changed to a protective response in kidney transplantation.

Since receiving the Royal College honour, he also was awarded a KRESCENT Fellowship by the Kidney Foundation of Canada for his research project at Harvard.

Dr Gunaratnam, who graduated from the University of Toronto with High Distinction in 1996, later did postgraduate work in immunology at the Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto, with Prof Michael Dosch, before proceeding to the University of Ottawa for medical studies, graduating in 2002.

Today, in the shadow of dreadful new diseases, he is also actively involved in research with Dr Stephen Lee of the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine, searching for answers to turn the tide against them, and has published several manuscripts in journals such as Nature Cell Biology, the Journal of Biological Chemistry and Cancer Research, and has presented his findings at scientific conferences in Canada and the US.

His efforts received further recognition at the end of May when the medical faculty of the University of Ottawa named him an outstanding resident researcher in 2005.

Dr Gunaratnam, a Sri Lankan Tamil, fled the country with his family after the devastating ethnic upheavals of July 1983; they found their way through many countries before landing in Montreal as refugees in 1985.  It was time to put their lives back together again after more than two years of disruptions, and erase from mind the painful images of 1983.

But it was also a new beginning for him, an opportunity to rise from the adversity that had driven him to Canada.  There were major problems.  Coping with the medium of instruction was one.  In Colombo, at St. Thomas’ Prep, it was Tamil, but at Polyvalente Cavalier in Montreal, he had to master the complexities of French before joining the mainstream, and when finally he moved to Marc Garneau CI in Toronto in 1988, it was about the nuances of English.  But he met the challenges, and sailed through them en route to the University of Toronto.

At the university he was a Dean’s List Scholar, faculty scholar in the Arts and Science Faculty, holder of the University of Toronto Open Master’s Fellowships, and the recipient of other awards, including T-Holder awards for excellence in academics and athletics.

He was on the University of Toronto's badminton team when they won the ‘Gold’ in the OUAA inter-university competition in 1995.  He later captained the team.  His passion for the game never abated after he joined the University of Ottawa, and before long his skill and enthusiasm earned him a place on that university's team.

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Posted June 18, 2005