Faculty of Health Sciences adjunct professor, John Challis, named to the Order of Canada

January 14, 2021

John Challis, adjunct professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences (FHS), was named to the Order of Canada in late December for his foundational contributions to health sciences research. During his storied career he has illuminated the role of fetal development in onset of disease, advocated for enhanced collaboration and funding in health sciences research, championed the rapid mobilization of innovative research to clinicians and patients, and mentored generations of researchers and contributors.

Challis is an exceptional leader. He served as chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of Toronto – where he is a university professor emeritus – and held key leadership roles with several prestigious national organizations, including the Michael Smith Foundation in Health Research. A prolific investigator, he has more than 500 articles and papers to his credit, 400 of which are featured in peer review literature. He has held more than $25M in research funding.

As a researcher, Challis actively fosters a culture of collaboration, encouraging health sciences investigators to work with each other, with clinicians and with patients to pursue research that answers an identified need. During his time as the pro vice-chancellor, health and medical research at the University of Western Australia, Challis brought together multiple stakeholders – health authorities, administrators, researchers and universities – to collectively transform regional health science funding and research, shifting it from a culture of competition to one of cooperation for the benefit of all.

Challis has supervised more than 100 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in his lab, advising and providing opportunities for the next generations of scientists, administrators, policy makers and investigators.

“The people are the most important aspect of my work, and what I’m proudest of,” he says.

Challis says his appointment to the Order of Canada is “a huge honour and very humbling. Being a part of the order makes me proud to be a Canadian, to hope that I can make a better contribution to the country.”

Although Challis is semi-retired, he continues to participate in research with a multitude of investigators, including the Indigenous Healthy Life Trajectories Initiative – a collaboration between the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council, First Nations Health Authority and FHS. He is also busy co-chairing conferences to discuss the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD): first with the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences Forum in September 2021, and then with the DOHaD World Congress in Vancouver in August 2022.

“We want to gather everyone interested in examining the developmental origins of health and disease – researchers, politicians, health care leaders, policy makers – so that they can see how this information can be applied in their setting.”

Despite the addition of the Order of Canada to his large collection of awards and accolades, Challis remains modest. While discussing his appointment with FHS, he enthusiastically admired the wonderful spectrum of multidisciplinary investigators involved in DOHaD research, and then quietly added: “I hope to make a meaningful contribution.”