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Leadership Muhammad Mamdani, 39: helps Canada make drug decisions

Muhammad Mamdani, Associate professor, University of Toronto and Director, Applied Health Research Centre, St. Michael?s Hospital, Toronto.

St. Michael?s Hospital

Each year, Caldwell Partners International chooses 40 Canadians who were under 40 in the past year to honour for their outstanding achievements. Click here to learn more about the program, and find more winners in the list below.

How do we as a society decide which medicines make sense for us? Dr. Mamdani helps policy makers take such decisions by evaluating the risks and costs of drugs.

Tongue in cheek, he offered the example: "Should we spend $2-million to cure a wart or $50,000 to save a life?" Not every decision is that obvious, but in order to make evaluations in this very complex area, one needs knowledge of both drugs and economics.

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So, Dr. Mamdani got an education in both. He obtained a Doctor of Pharmacy at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, and then thought, "The clinical work is nice, but I need a bit more." He then went to Wayne State University in Detroit for a master's in economics.

This allowed him to work on drug use patterns and forecasting of how drugs will be used in the future, depending on different factors.

But he found there was a communication disconnect: "Health professionals don't speak the same lingo as economists."

So, he went to Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., and got a master's degree in public health, in biostatistics and epidemiology.

He was then recruited to the Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences in Toronto, which has several administrative health-care databases with anonymous data that can be used for research. He was interested in using the databases to look at the effects of different drugs on patients' health and how resources are used, allowing for better decisions about health-care delivery.

Traditionally, he said, researchers hire analysts to pull data and put it together to answer a particular question. But the process of getting a grant and hiring help takes a long time.

So Dr. Mamdani learned how to code in computer language, allowing him, along with his statistical knowledge, to do analyses on specific, focused questions he was interested in.

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The time saving was immense, allowing him to publish about 200 research studies since 1997 in peer-reviewed medical journals.

But just putting papers out into the ether wasn't what he wanted to do. A turning point in his thinking came when, just out of curiosity, he decided to check how many people had cited the first study he had published in 1997. The answer was a total of one … which turned out to have been himself in a subsequent paper.

"I needed to have an impact," he said. So he approached policy makers and asked them what they needed to make decisions. Since then, Dr. Mamdani has generated research to help guide clinical practice and health policy decisions.

Dr. Mamdani's research has provided insights on issues such as what sorts of doses lead to opioid-related death by overdose from increased prescription narcotic drug use. Dr. Mamdani led the first large study of more than 140,000 patients linking the painkiller Vioxx with heart failure. A student-initiated study for which Dr. Mamdani was the senior author linked changes in blood sugar levels with a particular antibiotic, and it was pulled off the worldwide market within a few months of publication.

He was appointed Director of the Applied Health Research Centre of the Li Ka Shing Knowledge Institute of St. Michael's Hospital in 2007. The centre's aim is to help clinical researchers to design, fund and run studies by providing skilled personnel and technologies.

Besides his research work, he is an associate professor in the department of Health Policy, Management and Evaluation of the Faculty of Medicine, and the Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy at the University of Toronto.

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Dr. Mamdani was born in Dhaka, Bangladesh. He moved to Guelph, Ont., when he was 5, with his family. His community service includes setting up communal health insurance in northern Pakistan, which allows people living on pennies a day to have basic health care and immunization.

More winners:

  • Karen Bakker, 39
  • Keith Bilous, 39
  • Leonard Brody, 39
  • Naman Budhdeo, 38
  • Michael Burns, 39
  • Craig Campbell, 34
  • Norie Campbell, 39
  • Jody Campeau, 39
  • Cody Church, 39
  • Brian Coombes, 36
  • Matthew Corrin, 29
  • Frederick Dryden, 39
  • Dominic Giroux, 35
  • Deirdre Horgan, 38
  • Kyle Jeworski, 36
  • Nicholas Johnson, 38
  • Dr. Kirsten Johnson, 39
  • Kevin Li, 39
  • Stewart Lyons, 37
  • Muhammad Mamdani, 39
  • Andy McCreath, 35, and Christian Darbyshire, 35
  • Calvin McDonald, 39
  • Duke McKenzie, 35
  • Glori Meldrum, 37
  • Michele Mosca, 39
  • Suresh Narine, 39
  • Sean O'Reilly, 36
  • John Poulos, 36
  • Andrew Reid, 34
  • Gregory Roberts, 38
  • Angela Santiago, 39
  • Bradley Schwartz, 39
  • Leerom Segal, 31
  • Som Seif, 34
  • Natasha Sharpe, 39
  • Andrew Smith, 38
  • Steve Sousa, 39
  • Marie-Pier St-Hilaire, 33
  • David Vocadlo, 37
  • Nolan Watson, 31
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