2011 Finalist: Outstanding Leadership In Alberta Science
World-Renowned Researcher Makes An Impact On Individuals And On Society
“There’s no other job like it anywhere in the world,” states Dr. Gerald Zamponi, of his work at the University of Calgary as Canada Research Chair, professor and head of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology. “The rewards are fantastic from a creative point of view, and you have a great team around you. I’ve never experienced not wanting to do this.”
Dr. Zamponi is an internationally renowned neuroscientist. His work has provided valuable insights into the basis of electrical activity of brain and heart cells. Among his many contributions is the discovery of a novel class of drug molecules for the treatment of pain that culminated in his cofounding of NeuroMed Pharmaceuticals (now Zalicus Inc.), one of Canada’s premier biotechnology success stories.
Pursuing Medical Research
Originally from Austria, Dr. Zamponi moved to Canada 20 years ago with an engineering physics degree, but could only get a job working on a construction site with his foreign credentials.
“I chose to continue my education to escape from a rather bleak future,” he says. Medical research proved to be an exciting field and Dr. Zamponi pursued his doctoral degree in neuroscience.
His research focuses on the mechanisms that control the electrical activities of brain and heart cells, and how they are compromised in disorders such as epilepsy, pain and neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease.
“Although there’s no guarantee, we’re excited about the potential impact of our discovery of the novel mechanism that causes brain damage during Alzheimer’s,” he says. “We’ve developed therapeutics that may overcome that mechanism and with the increasing burden of dementia, we see a tremendous ability to help.”
Benefits to Society
Dr. Zamponi’s research programs have resulted in numerous important contributions to basic and applied science, and have been published in the best journals worldwide. Seeing his work published in prestigious journals is rewarding, but more so is translating the work he and his colleagues do in the lab into tangible benefits for society.
“Pain affects one-third of the population,” he explains. “If we can alleviate pain, we help individuals and we also make an impact on the economic burden that comes from people being in pain. That can make a tremendous difference.”
Dr. Zamponi has also trained numerous graduate students and postdoctoral fellows, many of whom have gone on to successful careers in academia and the biotechnology.
“What matters most to me is mentoring grad students and postdocs to become successful independent thinkers,” he says. “Leaving that legacy, knowing that I’ve contributed to their own discoveries to help people, is more important than anything I do in the lab.”
Dr. Zamponi is also the founder and editor in chief of an international scientific journal, and is recognized as a strong and energetic academic leader as head of the Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, widely considered the strongest basic science department in the U of C. He says Alberta, Calgary and the university have provided him with the support and funding he needs to do his work.
In the future Dr. Zamponi wants only to continue doing what he is doing – undertaking projects that have a big impact on individuals and the world.