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"ANC" 2006 Obituary


ANCERL o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2006-07-18 published
Otto SIREK, Endocrinologist (1921-2006)
He was one of the last surviving scientists who worked with Charles BEST, the co-discoverer of insulin
By Carol COOPER, Special to the Globe and Mail, Page S9
Aurora, Ontario -- Otto SIREK's Friends joked that the year of his birth determined his future. The endocrinologist was born in 1921, the year insulin was discovered. But it was his ability, not his birthday, that led to Doctor SIREK's postdoctoral fellowship with Charles BEST. Recruited by the co-discoverer of insulin to join his lab, the Czechoslovak native came to Canada, along with his wife, Anna, then a pediatric surgeon.
The SIREKs' year-long stay became permanent, as did Otto SIREK's study of diabetes. With Doctor BEST as his personal and professional mentor and his wife as his research partner for more than 30 years, Dr. SIREK published more than 100 papers, many of them co-authored with Anna. He was one of the last surviving scientists who worked with Doctor BEST and, like him, became internationally renowned.
When the SIREKs arrived in Toronto on a snowy April day in 1950, Dr. BEST served as both the head of the department of physiology at the University of Toronto and the faculty of medicine's Banting and Best Department of Medical Research.
While Anna SIREK undertook research at the Hospital for Sick Children, her husband worked with Doctor BEST. By 1953, Doctor BEST and Doctor SIREK had contributed definitive knowledge to the understanding of diabetes: Before their studies, many scientists believed that insulin was the sole hormone responsible for physical growth and that all other hormones involved worked through the agency of insulin. The pair proved that, while insulin needed to be present for physical growth, some hormones, such as testosterone and growth hormone, acted independently of it.
The SIREKs, meanwhile, had put down roots and, at Doctor BEST's insistence, stayed in Canada. On his recommendation, they purchased a house 10 minutes from the university and around the corner from him. They lived there for 50 years.
Proximity to the University of Toronto helped with Doctor BEST's next suggestion.
Dr. SIREK's studies involved dogs in which hormonal deficiencies were created by the surgical removal of the pancreas and pituitary gland. Colleagues joked about his lack of surgical skills, so Dr. BEST brought in someone who had them.
Breaking the rules that said husband and wife could not hold positions in the same faculty or department, Doctor BEST insisted that Anna SIREK work with her husband. Carrying out research as her husband's equal as well as operating on the dogs, Anna slipped home to have lunch with their four children.
Playing on the original pronunciation of the couple's surname, shirek, Friends sometimes referred to the pair as Herek and Sherek.
"He was a good partner for life," Anna SIREK said. "He would share the work of the children. My husband supported me in every way I could have been supported."
The couple proved the only correct method to measure blood insulin levels was by the specific laboratory method called radioimmunoassay studied the relationship between pituitary growth hormone and release of insulin and glucagon, the hormones which control the blood sugar levels in the body; and the cardiovascular complication of diabetes.
Along with Mladen VRANIC, the pair determined that removal of the pituitary gland led to normal glucose production by the liver, linking one aspect of the high blood sugar with the pituitary gland.
On the birth of their first child, Ann, Doctor BEST advised the SIREKs that, if they raised their child properly, papers written by SIREK, SIREK and SIREK would eventually be published. One was.
Otto SIREK met Anna when both attended the same school in Bratislava, then in Czechoslovakia but now the capital of Slovakia. Otakar Viktor SIREK was born in that city, the only child of a land surveyor from Moravia and a woman from Vienna.
One of the girls became class president, with Doctor SIREK as leader of the opposition. Their political rivalry and keen competition for top marks became Friendship, and then love, as Anna and Otakar proceeded together through high school and then medical school at Comenius University in Bratislava. They graduated in 1946.
An award for top marks was offered by the president of Czechoslovakia. As it happened, both Otakar and Anna were equally deserving. The dilemma was solved by the university's rector, who suggested that, since in old Roman law husband and wife were regarded as one person, they should marry so both could receive the award.
They did. The award included a year of post-graduate study. The newlyweds moved to Sweden, where Otto SIREK began his research in diabetes and Anna SIREK hers in surgery. With the Communist takeover of Czechoslovakia in 1948, the couple's families encouraged them to stay in Sweden, where Doctor SIREK added the country's language to his English, German and native Slovak.
He began to publish internationally, attracted Doctor BEST's attention and was invited for a fellowship. In a lecture given to the Japan Diabetes Association in Tokyo in 1994, Doctor SIREK described Doctor BEST as a dedicated scientist and efficient organizer with little patience for bureaucratic excesses.
One of Doctor BEST's favourite expressions, according to Anna SIREK, was: "Otto, in your spare time, could you…?"
Under Doctor BEST, Doctor SIREK completed his PhD and began teaching. Eventually, he became a full professor at the university. Among other awards, Doctor SIREK was honoured with the Starr Medal of the university's faculty of medicine in 1958 and the Charles H. Best Prize for outstanding work in the field of experimental diabetes. In addition, he helped start the Canadian Workshop on Diabetes, a convention on the disease that was held nine times during 11 years. As well, postdoctoral fellows came to study with him, and he and his wife held many visiting professorships in countries such as Israel and Iran.
Otto SIREK retired in 1987. He donated his books and papers to a university in Shenyang, China, where a library is named for him.
A humble and deeply religious man, Doctor SIREK treated everyone equally and was universally well-liked. He loved opera, attending live performances and spending Saturday afternoons listening to it on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He counted among his Friends Karel ANCERL, a past conductor of the Toronto Symphony.
In the 1994 Japan lecture, Doctor SIREK also said: "I feel privileged that life has given me the opportunity to develop my intellectual and professional abilities in harmony with my wife, my most faithful ally. I am immensely grateful to Doctor BEST for providing an environment for peaceful and productive work."
Otakar Viktor SIREK was born in Bratislava, Czechoslovakia, on December 21, 1921. He died in Toronto on May 5. He leaves his wife, Anna; children Ann, Jan Peter and Terese; and 10 grandchildren.

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ANCO o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.toronto_star 2006-03-29 published
ANCO, Mary
Peacefully, at Livingstone Lodge on Monday, March 27th, 2006 in her 97th year. Beloved wife of the late Stephen. Dearly loved mother of the late Richard and his wife Joan; Ronald and his wife Frances and Donald and his wife Eleanor. Dear grandmother of Lynn, Carolyn, Chris, Cathy, Connie, Stephen and Sharon and great-grandmother of 10. Dear sister of Joe ROBERTS and his wife Helen and the late Barney ROBERTS and his wife Marge. Friends will be received at the "Scarborough Chapel" of McDougall and Brown, 2900 Kingston Road (one block east of St. Clair Ave. E.), 416-267-4656 on Thursday, March 30th from 2-4 and 7-9 p.m. Chapel service will be held on Friday, March 31st, 2006 at 11 a.m. Reception in the Arbor Lounge followed by interment at Prospect Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, donations to your favourite charity would be appreciated.

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