Lab Canada

2012 Canada Gairdner Awards honour new medical insights

Toronto, ON – The Gairdner Foundation has announced the recipients of the 2012 Canada Gairdner Awards. Recognized for some of the most significant medical discoveries from around the world, this year’s winners showcase a broad range of new medical insights, from pioneering new ways to tackle childhood illness in developing countries to identifying how our biological clocks guide our everyday lives.

Among the world’s most esteemed medical research prizes, the awards distinguish Canada as a leader in science and provide a $100,000 prize to scientists whose work holds important potential.

The Canada Gairdner International Awards, recognizing individuals from a variety of fields for seminal discoveries or contributions to medical science, go to:

  • Jeffrey C Hall, PhD, professor emeritus of biology, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA;
  • Michael Rosbash, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Biology, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA; and
  • Michael W Young, PhD, Laboratory of Genetics, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY.

These scientists discovered how our circadian clock – commonly known as our biological clock – ticks. Circadian clocks are active throughout the body’s cells, where they use a common genetic mechanism to control the rhythmic activities of various tissues.

  • Thomas M Jessell, PhD, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Kavli Institute for Brain Science, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, NY.

Dr Jessell’s work reveals the basic principles of nervous system communication. By studying the assembly and organization of the circuit that controls movement in the spinal cord nervous system, he identified the direct connection between the sensory neuron, which is responsible for allowing us to process what is happening in the world around us, and the motor neuron, which allows us to control how our muscles move to react to what we sense in that world.

  • Jeffrey V Ravetch, PhD, MD, Theresa and Eugene Lang professor; head, Leonard Wagner Laboratory of Molecular Genetics and Immunology, The Rockefeller University, New York, NY.

Dr Ravetch’s work demonstrates how our immune systems can be both protective as well as harmful. Antibodies in our immune systems trigger different health outcomes by binding to molecules called “Fc receptors” to change their protective activity. The Fc receptor system allows antibodies that are produced by the body to defend against toxins, bacteria and viruses, ultimately leading to their inactivation and removal.

The Canada Gairdner Global Health Award, recognizing someone who is responsible for a scientific advancement that has made, or has the potential to make, a significant impact on health in the developing world, goes to:

  • Brian M Greenwood, MD, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK.

After identifying early in his career that meningitis and pneumonia were significant causes of childhood deaths in Africa, Dr Greenwood evaluated two groups of vaccines to prevent these diseases, and proved Haemophilus and Pneumococcal conjugate vaccines were highly effective in reducing meningitis and pneumonia in African children. In addition, he showed how deaths from malaria can be prevented using insecticide-treated bed nets and anti-malarial drugs given during the rainy season.

The Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, given to a Canadian who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science throughout his/her career, goes to:

  • Lorne A Babiuk, OC, SOM, PhD, DSc, FRSC, vice-president (research), University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB

Dr Babiuk’s work has focused on studying how diseases are transmitted from animals to humans, while developing innovative vaccination approaches to control infectious diseases such as the Rotavirus. Through his study of infectious disease, and leadership role in the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) and at the University of Alberta, Dr Babiuk has helped to relieve mortality, morbidity, and economic hardship caused by infectious disease.

The awards will be presented at a dinner in Toronto on October 25 as part of the Gairdner National Program, a month-long lecture series given by Canada Gairdner Award winners at 21 universities from St John’s to Vancouver. The national program reaches students across the country, making the superstars of science accessible and inspiring the next generation of researchers.

“Our 2012 Canada Gairdner Awardees are a group of modern-day explorers who have dedicated their lives to using basic science to discover answers to puzzling medical challenges,” said Dr John Dirks, president and scientific director of Gairdner. “Because of their tenacity and their dedication, we have a whole new realm of potential medical solutions open to us. It is our hope the awards continue to inspire researchers to conquer unchartered medical territory.”