U of Toronto creates school of public health with $20-million donation

UToronto calls new school Canada’s largest network of public health and educators dedicated to disease prevention

The University of Toronto is creating what it calls Canada’s largest network of public health researchers and educators dedicated to disease prevention and health promotion after receiving a $20-million donation for a school of public health.The new school, named for benefactors Paul and Alessandra Dalla Lana, will deal with a range of public health issues, from emerging diseases like SARS to combating the rise of obesity to measuring the performance of Canada’s health-care system.

Paul Dalla Lana is founder and president of NorthWest Value Partners Inc. and chair of NorthWest HealthCare Properties REIT, Canada’s largest private owner and manager of medical office buildings and health-care facilities.

The school of public health will be headed by Winnipeg-born Dr. Jack Mandel, an internationally recognized epidemiologist who has worked in the United States for the last 35 years, most recently as chair of epidemiology for the Rollins School of Public Health at Emory University in Atlanta.

“With the remarkable leadership of Jack Mandel, the great staff, faculty and students of our university, and this transformative gift from Paul and Alessandra, we are now in a position to compete with the best schools of public health south of the border,” university president David Naylor said Wednesday in a statement.

Mandel called his new post as director of the Dalla Lana School of Public Health “a tremendous opportunity.”

“I think it’s really one of the best opportunities out there in academic public health because of the resources that exist here, and by resources I mean the pool of talent that exists here within the university and within the community to mobilize and collaborate on addressing the health issues of today,” he said in an interview Wednesday.

The school will incorporate the university’s department of public health sciences and team up with other departments, among them dentistry, nursing and health policy management, as well as hospitals affiliated with the university, government and public health agencies.

Its mandate will cover a broad range of public health issues, from infectious and neurological diseases to chronic conditions such as cancer, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.

“So the school will really be broadly representative of all the areas of public health and will basically have all the disciplines you’d find in all public health schools in North America,” Mandel said.

“I would expect that this school will be one of the leading schools of public health in the world.”

Mandel, who specializes in the connection between certain cancers and environmental, occupational and lifestyle factors, conducted the first randomized controlled clinical trial to show the benefit of colorectal cancer screening in reducing both the number of cases and deaths from the disease.

“We have the technology that will not only allow us to reduce the mortality from colorectal cancer, but actually reduce the incidence of disease,” he said. “And we’re only now beginning to apply that technology across the country here. It’s slow.”

The same could be said about public health promotion in general, Mandel noted.

“There’s a lot we know about preventing illness or premature death. There’s a great deal we know. But all of it is not being applied as well as it could be.”

-with a report from CP