July 31, 1934

(Morden, Manitoba)


MD, University of Manitoba (1958)

Awards & Honours:

2017: Distinguished Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences

2006: F.N.G. Starr Award, Canadian Medical Association

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Picture of Henry Friesen

Discovered the hormone prolactin and founded the CIHR

Portrait of Henry Friesen

A transformative influence on health research in Canada

In 1965, Dr. Henry Friesen entered the Department of Medicine at McGill University, where he carried out research on human growth hormones which made successful replacement therapy in hormone-deficient children possible. Further endocrine research led to his isolation and purification of the hormone prolactin. As an administrator, Dr. Friesen served on the Medical Research Council of Canada as President, piloted the Council through challenging times with competence and diplomacy as well as envisioned and championed its transformation into the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Key Facts

Appointed Distinguished Fellow of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences, an honour held by only 10 people at any given time

Determined that excessive circulating prolactin caused infertility

Strengthened the partnership between the Medical Research Council and the pharmaceutical industry

Served as President of the National Cancer Institute of Canada and President of the Canadian Society for Clinical Investigation

Received honorary doctorates from eight universities

Appointed Founding Chair of Genome Canada

Professional timeline

Impact on lives today

As a result of his ground-breaking discovery of the hormone prolactin, Friesen developed the drug Bromocriptine in collaboration with researchers in the pharmaceutical industry. This drug is still used today as an effective treatment of infertility in thousands of women. In addition, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research remains Canada’s premier health agency and is made up of 13 different virtual institutes. Each year they invest $1 billion to support over 13,000 researchers and trainees.

Picture of Henry Friesen


  • Friends of the CIHR established the Henry G. Friesen International Prize in Health Research

    The prize is awarded annually to “an individual of international stature who best exemplifies Henry Friesen’s prescience, organizational creativity and broad impact on health research and health research policy.”

  • Henry Friesen inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

    Winnipeg, Manitoba

  • CIHR was established

    Leadership in Organizational Development

    After years of persistence and development, Friesen led the establishment of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. As a result, he is credited with redefining medical research in Canada.

  • Henry Friesen met with Paul Martin, Minister of Finance, to discuss the possibility of a new national agency for Canadian medical research

    Leadership in Organizational Development

    This meeting began Friesen’s determined push for change in the nature federal support for medical research in Canada.

  • The Medical Research Council of Canada appointed new leadership

    Leadership in Organizational Development

    Dr. Friesen served as President of the MRC for the next nine years. Committed to strengthening Canada’s medical community, he facilitated the establishment of the Canadian Breast Cancer Initiative and the Canadian Medical Discoveries Fund.

  • Friesen moved to the University of Manitoba

    He became Professor and Head of the Department of Physiology and Professor of Medicine until 1991.

  • Friesen returned to Canada

    He accepted a position at McGill University and was cross-appointed to the Royal Victoria Hospital.

  • Prolactin was discovered

    Hormones, Female Reproduction, Female Reproduction

    Against the skepticism of some of his colleagues, Dr. Friesen discovered prolactin and described its physiological effects. During this time, he also pursued research on human growth hormones.

  • Friesen graduated from medicine at the University of Manitoba

    He then pursued post-graduate training in endocrinology at the New England Center Hospital in Boston.


He is brilliant, confident and persistent with an unbounded curiosity.