2023 – Dr. John Wherrett

Dr. John Wherrett has devoted his career to the areas of neurology, neurochemistry, neuropathology, dementia research and care, and university administration.

Dr. Wherrett graduated from Queens University, in 1955. His desire to study neurology, neurochemistry, and neuropathology took him to prestigious academic sites including the NIH in Bethesda Maryland, London England, and Queens Square. He attained his Neurology specialist certification in 1963. Dr Wherrett was recruited heavily by the NIH, Stanford, and Yale to locate in their academic institutions. However, he decided to establish his lab and his career at the University of Toronto.

During his career he developed a method for measuring glutamine and asparagine in proteins, which was later used for the Nobel Prize-winning protein characterization of ribonuclease by Dr. Christian Anderson. Also his study of gangliosides led him to the analysis of complex lipids in the brain and the study of lipid storage diseases.

Mid-career, Dr. Wherrett became involved in university administration becoming the Director of the Division of Neurology at the University of Toronto. In this position he worked to integrate neurology at the University’s 7 affiliated hospitals. Upon leaving administration, he decided to retool and regenerate his benchwork research and traveled to Utrecht for a year to study protein microanalysis and lipid signaling.

Upon reaching university retirement age Dr. Wherrett closed his lab and joined the University Health Network Interdisciplinary Memory Clinic. As did Dr. Parhad, he founded a dementia clinical research program at UHN and became the primary investigator in a number of Alzheimer clinical drug trials involving acetylcholine esterase inhibitors and disease-modifying agents.

Also like Dr. Parhad, Dr. Wherrett had a keen interest in neuropathology and was a strong proponent of the Canadian Brain Tissue Bank where he served as a member of the Board and as medical director and chaired the Tissue Advisory Committee. He was also active in the Parkinson’s Foundation of Canada where he served on the Board and as Chairman of the Scientific Advisory Board from 1984 to 1992.

In addition to Dr. Wherrett’s vast academic contributions to neurology and dementia research, he has been a leader, mentor, and role model for scores of neurologists, geriatricians, psychiatrists, family physicians, nurses, and allied health professionals. His indelible mark on the Canadian landscape of dementia research and clinical care makes him highly deserving of being awarded the 2023 Irma Parhad Award of Excellence.