The Kidney Foundation of Canada

2013 KFOC Medal for Research Excellence

Dr. Marcello Tonelli

The Kidney Foundation of Canada’s 2013 Medal for Research Excellence was awarded to Dr. Marcello Tonelli, the first clinician-researcher to show that statin treatment is effective in managing the cardiovascular risk associated with the early stages of chronic kidney disease. Dr. Tonelli’s innovative research has changed Canadian drug policy, improved the health of vulnerable populations, and informed both national and international clinical practice.

People with chronic kidney disease are at increased risk for cardiovascular events and are more likely to die of heart failure than to develop kidney failure. Dr. Tonelli’s groundbreaking research in the area of cholesterol reduction led the way in improving treatment for these patients. His more recent research indicates that statin therapy may also reduce the rate of kidney function loss and lessen the risk of acute kidney failure.

“Dr. Tonelli’s work has shaped national and international clinical practice guidelines for the management of lipid abnormalities in kidney patients,” says Dr. Barbara Ballermann, Chair of the Department of Medicine and Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta.

At the population health level, Dr. Tonelli’s work has changed Canadian drug policy. His  economic analyses are frequently cited when evaluating the cost versus health benefit of two drugs central to the treatment and long-term survival of dialysis patients: erythropoietin (used to help control blood pressure) and sevelamer (used to manage high blood levels of phosphorous, a mineral whose build up can cause heart problems).

More recently, his finding that remote-dwelling patients with kidney failure are more likely to die due to lack of access to kidney transplantation as a mode of treatment, has encouraged considerable discussion and informed decision-making regarding optimal care provision to this vulnerable population.

Dr. Tonelli has notably taken his expertise overseas to help at-risk populations in low-income settings. He established a partnership with a hospital for the indigent in Guadalajara, Mexico, and (with his wife, also a physician) volunteers regularly at a mission hospital in Kenya.

A graduate of the University of Western Ontario, Dr. Tonelli completed his clinical nephrology training at Dalhousie University followed by a Master’s of Science in Clinical Epidemiology at Harvard Medical School. He is a nephrologist and Professor of Medicine at the University of Alberta, where he supervises an impressive research team including clinician-scientists who have formed a non-profit organization, the Kidney Health Research Group.

“Dr. Tonelli’s scientific drive and humanity have garnered respect and inspired colleagues and new researchers both here in Canada and abroad. His research and professional activity, as well as his volunteerism, continue to impact patient care,” says Dr. Julian Midgley, National President of The Kidney Foundation.

Author of more than 280 peer-reviewed publications, many in the highest ranked scientific journals, and immediate Past President of the Canadian Society of Nephrology, Dr. Tonelli is also a Canada Research Chair in optimal care for people with chronic kidney disease. He is volunteer chair of the Canadian Task Force on Preventive Health Task Group, leading an international group that will inform Canada’s 36,000 Family Physicians about best practices in disease prevention.