When he began his studies at University of the Fraser Valley in 1997, Mike Hildebrand didn’t know where his career would take him.
He admired and was inspired by his teachers at Abbotsford’s MEI – Mennonite Educational Institute, and initially thought maybe he’d become a science teacher.
Eighteen years later, he returned to his hometown this week as the winner of UFV’s distinguished alumni award.
Hildebrand, a 2001 graduate of UFV’s BSc program, has followed a scientific journey that took him to the University of British Columbia for a PhD, a post-doctoral industrial research fellowship with Zalicus Pharmaceuticals, and a research fellowship at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto.
Since 2013 he has been a tenure-track assistant professor in the neuroscience department at Ottawa’s Carleton University, running the Hildebrand Lab, which focuses on pain management.
During the course of his life he has met people living with chronic pain and they have become a motivating force.
“They really put a face on my research for me. I can think that maybe one day, they will be helped by the research I conduct.”
He has received almost $400,000 in research funding for his lab, including a $175,000 NSERC Discovery grant and a $140,000 Canada Foundation for Innovation grant.
The inability to effectively treat and manage chronic pain is one of the major public health challenges facing Canada today. In order to develop better drugs to treat chronic pain, researchers need to understand what goes wrong at a molecular and cellular level. The spinal cord is an essential component in the pain transmission pathway and the Hildebrand lab explores how chronic pain works in the area. Hildebrand’s lab is also investigating potential molecular connections between chronic stress, depression, and chronic pain.
“Our hope is that our program will train future health care professionals and researchers in Canada and lead to the discovery of pain-producing molecules best suited as potential targets for new chronic pain drugs,” he said.
Hildebrand has strong family roots in the Fraser Valley, where he grew up on a chicken farm run by his parents.
“My family did not have an extensive educational background, but they valued knowledge and learning and taught us to be curious about the world around us.”
It was a long process becoming the research scientist he is today and he could not have made the journey without help from others.
Hildebrand, now 36, is now happily settled in Ottawa with his wife Sara, a teacher, and their three children.
He was honoured Thursday at UFV’s Distinguished Alumni award ceremony, which took place at UFV’s Town and Gown gala dinner on the Abbotsford campus.