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Tuesday, July 22, 2014

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Azrieli and Elhilali linked in the name of science

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David Azrieli, right, speaks as Dr. Mostafa Elhilali looks on at the launch of an academic chair in urologic sciences in both their names.

The names of renowned Egyptian-born urologist and surgeon Dr. Mostafa Elhilali and real estate developer and philanthropist David Azrieli, Israel’s pre-eminent builder, will be linked in perpetuity through the establishment of an academic chair.

The Dr. Mostafa Elhilali/David Azrieli Chair in Urologic Sciences, backed by a $3-million endowment, was officially launched by the Montreal General Hospital (MGH) Foundation last week with a celebration at the McGill University faculty of medicine, the beneficiary.

The faculty will soon embark on an international search for an incumbent who will be engaged in clinical work and research at the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC). The term will be five years.

“This endowed chair will enable McGill to compete to bring the best and brightest to our division,” said Dr. Gerald Fried, who succeeded Elhilali as MUHC surgeon-in-chief.

Elhilali, who graduated from Cairo University in 1959 and has spent most of his career in the McGill system, is currently chair of the MUHC department of surgery. He recently received lifetime achievement awards from both the Canadian and American urological associations.

At the launch held at the Faculty of Medicine, both men insisted modestly that they had wanted the other’s name alone attached to the chair. A compromise was reached by having both of their names immortalized.

The relationship between the two men, both Order of Canada recipients, goes back several years to when Elhilali was collaborating with an Israeli scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science on a promising experimental treatment for prostate cancer.

Elhilali supervised clinical trials here for Tookad, a relatively benign chlorophyll-based intravenous drug activated by laser light, developed by his colleague of some years, biochemist Avigdor Scherz of Weizmann.

In 2007, Azrieli chaired a gala dinner organized by the Canadian Society for the Weizmann Institute in Elhilali’s honour, the proceeds from which equally benefited Weizmann and the MGH Foundation.

The latter’s share was put toward creating this new chair, and over the years, more money was added.

Elhilali lauded Azrieli, who turned 90 this month, for his vision.

“Associating my name with his is probably the highlight of my career,” he said.

“With this chair, we will be able to recruit new blood, those with innovative ideas.”

Dr. David Eidelman, the dean of medicine, said the MUHC’s urologic sciences division’s international stature will only be enhanced.

“David Azrieli is a model of incredible perseverance and acuity. From difficult beginnings, he has achieved great heights,” said Eidelman, noting that at the age of 73, Azrieli returned to university for his master’s degree in architecture.

Azrieli said he hoped his contribution will encourage others to do likewise and that he is gratified that Elhilali agreed to accept the honour.

His daughter, Naomi Azrieli, president of the Azrieli Foundation, noted that this gift marks a new direction for the foundation: support for science and, particularly, health sciences.

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