FROM ALBERTA TO AFRICA
haviour and newborn immune systems — has global implications, and it will help to improve children’s health here in Alberta. Hawkes says it’s always a relief for a researcher to secure essential financial support. “I’m delighted we can have these funds to move ideas forward that can have big impact.” Earlier in his career, Hawkes engaged in a different big-impact project — to improve conditions for pneumonia patients. While working in Uganda, he quickly discovered that conventional oxygen delivery systems — which rely on a steady flow of electricity — were unreliable. “You can have a power cut and have Dr. Michael Hawkes is finding new ways to treat some children die in front of your eyes,” he says. To address the problem, he developed of the world’s biggest health challenges BY JULIA WILLIAMS an oxygen concentrator that is powered by solar panels. In a randomized controlled trial, Hawkes’ solar-powered some activity on the blood-brain barrier oxygen concentrator proved as clinically or most physicians, coming up and came across some cancer drugs,” effective as the conventional compressed with a new malaria treatment Hawkes says. oxygen cylinders. He is now working with would be a career apex. For The anticancer drugs he and his team the Uganda Ministry of Health to expand Dr. Michael Hawkes, it’s just found have proven effective at treating the program, known as the Solar Oxygen the most recent innovation in a cerebral malaria conditions in lab tests. Project, to 20 sites across the country. career devoted to improving outcomes Next, the drugs will be tested on animal The Solar Oxygen Project has caught for children battling some of the world’s models and eventually in human subjects. the attention of global health leaders, most deadly diseases. Hawkes says the fact that these meditoo. In 2015, Hawkes was one of 10 Hawkes is an assistant professor at the cations are already FDA-approved will innovators invited to present his work University of Alberta in the department of simplify the process of getting the drugs to a panel of experts, including delegates pediatrics, Division of Pediatric Infectious from bench to bedside. from UNICEF and the Malaria Diseases. In 2011, he went to work in rural In January 2018, Hawkes Consortium, at the PneuUganda and saw first-hand the difficulty learned that his malaria monia Innovations of managing conditions like pneumonia research will be Summit in New York and malaria in a developing country. supported by the City. The project Hawkes believes many children die needStollery Children’s also took Hawkes lessly of conditions that are treatable. Hospital Founto the Energy Best “That’s what’s driving me, is the childation through Practices Pavilion dren in these low-income settings,” he the Women and at Expo 2017 in says. “We have to come up with solutions Children’s Health Kazakhstan. to these problems.” Research InstiNext, Hawkes Hawkes is currently engaged in a tute, which awards plans to tackle research project to test potential malaria DR. MICHAEL HAWKES grants to projects another major globmedications. Conventional malaria drugs that improve the al health problem: target the parasite that causes the illness, health of women HIV. He’s researching but Hawkes believed he could find a medand children. Four of his ways to identify infants ication that could be added to a treatment University of Alberta colleagues who’ve contracted HIV from program to target cerebral malaria. This also received Canadian Institutes their mothers as early as possible, so that neurological complication occurs when of Health Research New Investigator treatment can begin as soon as possible. the blood-brain barrier fails to perform grants, matched by the Stollery Hawkes believes physicians have a role its protective function properly, which Children’s Hospital Foundation. Like as innovators, not just as practitioners. can cause seizures, comas or death. Hawkes, their work — which addresses “We should always be thinking outside “We combed the literature for new health challenges including sleep bethe box,” he says. drugs on the market that might have
I’M DELIGHTED WE CAN HAVE THESE FUNDS TO MOVE IDEAS FORWARD THAT CAN HAVE BIG IMPACT.
HEROES MAGAZINE | SPRING 2018