Michael Stickland

Top 40 Under 40 2013

Photography Curtis Trent

Age: 39

Job Title: Director, Centre for Lung Health (Covenant Health); Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Alberta

Why He’s Top 40: For groundbreaking medical research that helps improve the quality of patients’ lives – and potentially saving the healthcare system millions of dollars.

What Do You Like Most About Edmonton?: “People here are genuine, they are very hard-working. And, for most of us, we really want to be here, we have got used to the weather and want to make our lives here.”

In the late 1990s, Michael Stickland was far away from his hometown of Edmonton – he was racing his bike in semi-pro circuits across Europe. He dreamed of the Tour de France competition and yellow jerseys.

But he was also fascinated to learn how exercise affected the human body; and the cycling dream soon gave way to a desire to do medical research.

Fast forward to 2013, and Stickland’s research into Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) may save Alberta millions upon millions of dollars every year and free up hospital beds, as well.

He’s the head of the Centre for Lung Health, a position that’s a cooperative effort between the University of Alberta and the Covenant Health wing of Alberta Services. With a location at the university and a full working lab at the Edmonton General Hospital, Stickland heads a team that works to help people with lung disease, while performing key research at the same time. People with COPDs like emphysema or bronchitis lead the pack in an infamous stat; their care costs Alberta more than $110 million a year.

“We are doing research to help people stay out of the hospital, to stay alive longer and to save the health-care system money,” says Stickland. “Even if you don’t smoke, you are affected by it. Because when you go to the hospital, they are taking the beds upstairs.”

Stickland started working at the Centre for Lung Health in 2006, after spending two-and-a-half years doing a post-doctorate at the University of Wisconsin. “I was at the point where I never thought I’d be back in Edmonton,” he says. “But an old mentor of mine was retiring and they wanted a successor who was someone like him, and they picked me.”

Founded by Dr. Fred MacDonald, the Centre was doing good work, but it was rarely publicized. Stickland came in with the goal of taking some of its practices and using them to help the system as a whole.

What the centre does is take patients – most of them elderly – who have COPDs, and then educates them about how to better live their lives and manage their conditions. They exercise. And, classes are broadcast to remote locations throughout central and northern Alberta.

“A lot of them, because of their conditions, they park as close as they can to the mall. They take the escalator or elevator instead of using the stairs. They limit their physical activity.”

Stickland is also researching how those with lung conditions are more at risk for heart problems, and he’s lectured across the world, raising the profile of Edmonton. He’s also the co-chair of an Alberta Health Service working group, with the goal of implementing best practices in respiratory care across the province.

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