Dr. Upton Allen named to endowed chair at SickKids Hospital
December 14, 2017
At a celebration last week to celebrate the appointment of Jamaican-born Dr. Upton Allen as the inaugural Bastable-Potts chair for infectious diseases research at the Hospital for Sick Children (HSC), chief paediatrician Dr. Ronald Cohn lauded his accomplishments.
They include Allen’s seminal contributions in developing guidelines for Ontario and other physicians regarding the inappropriate use of antibiotics.
That, however, is not what stands out for Cohn.
“He is the most kind and humble human being I have ever met not only here at SickKids, but probably throughout my entire life,” he said.
Allen joins a distinguished group of SickKids scientists and clinicians who hold 26 endowed chairs.
The endowed chairs program enhances the recruitment, retention and support of outstanding individuals working to advance the strategic direction of the institution by improving knowledge in a particular discipline or field.
They are responsible for world-leading research and academic activities in myriad disciplines throughout the hospital and have contributed greatly to the global academic and research community.
Allen is the senior head of the HSC infectious diseases division, the interim medical director of the transplant centre, a senior associate scientist in child health evaluative sciences, a professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Health Policy Management and Evaluation, the co-lead for the paediatric component of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research-funded national transplant program and co-chair of the SickKids Caribbean Initiative to help build health care capacity in the region.
Marilyn Monk, the executive vice-president responsible for clinical programs and services at the HSC, said Allen is an incredibly valued and well-respected colleague and mentor at the institution.
“He goes well above and beyond his research and clinical responsibilities,” she said.
Lynn Wilson, the chair of family & community medicine at U of T, said Allen is a distinguished researcher and clinician and the creation of an endowed academic chair allows him to undertake work in infectious diseases which is a priority area of research.
“His scholarship of teaching helps to support U of T’s reputation as one of the world’s great public universities,” she pointed out. “He is also one of the many ties that bind together U of T and SickKids which is absolutely one of the world’s great academic paediatrician hospitals. We greatly value this partnership because it leads to better doctors, better cures and treatments and ultimately better health outcomes for young people in Toronto and around the world.”
In April 2016, the HSC and the Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital Trust signed a two-year partnership supported through a Can$2.5 million investment by the Canadian government to provide capacity-building support to the new Nelson Mandela Children’s Hospital that opened last September in Johannesburg.
Allen has been instrumental in getting the 200-bed state-of-the-art hospital up and running.
“The feedback we hear from people when he goes there and provides his input is just unbelievable,” said Cohn.
Gail Potts, who was treated at SickKids hospital as a child and was very active in the Children’s Circle of Care – a program that honours leading individual benefactors to 26 prominent children’s hospital in the United States and Canada – passed away in 2012.
“It’s through the generosity of families like this one that we at SickKids get the opportunity to make transformational changes to improve the lives of children,” Allen said.
His research is focused on infections in transplant patients. The primary focus is on herpes group viral infections, particularly Epstein-Barr Virus-related post-transplant lymphoproliferative disease (PTLD).
The expansion of EBV and associated viruses research activities that examine the immunogenic factors that influence disease susceptibility, manifestations and outcomes are among future research interests.
He will be leading a collaboration with sites in Canada, the United States, Malawi and India to better understand what is going on in these diseases and ensure that patients will receive the best treatment.
“It is an opportunity to learn from each other and so we will be able to develop a mutually beneficial collaboration,” said Allen. “It is the lessons learnt from the immune dysregulation caused by transplantation and malaria that we are bringing together to better understand what is going on with these EBV-driven disorders.”
Allen graduated from Titchfield High School where he ran track, captained the school’s cricket team and played soccer before going to the University of the West Indies, Mona campus where he successfully completed his medical degree in 1981.
“My late parents were school principals, so education was obviously a priority in our household,” he said. “I enjoyed being active and taking part in sports while developing a passion for medicine as I observed the necessity to provide good medical care in developing countries.”
Allen’s early medical interest was in the field of malaria after reading the works of noted British doctor Sir Ronald Ross who won a Nobel Prize in 1902 for discovering the malarial parasite.
“After learning of his accomplishments, I couldn’t help feeling that I would like to be like him one day,” said Allen who trained UWI medical students and doctors and was a visiting professor and external examiner for pediatric degree candidates.
Arriving in Canada three decades ago to pursue specialized paediatric training that lasted four years at the HSC that’s affiliated to the U of T, he completed his Master’s in clinical epidemiology at McMaster University and spent five years in the department of obstetrics & gynecology and microbiology at Ottawa General Hospital prior to returning to the HSC in 1995.
Allen is a director of the Infectious Diseases Society of America and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada and the Royal College of Physicians in the United Kingdom. He is a past chair of the Infectious Diseases Specialty Training Committee, a member of the Specialty Standards Review Committee and a council member of the International Pediatric Transplant Association.
He and his wife -- Vincentian-born Dr. Melanie Kirby-Allen is an associate professor in the U of T’s paediatrics department and a staff haematologist at the HSC -- have three children.