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2013 Canada Gairdner Awards honour new medical insights


Toronto, ON – The Gairdner Foundation has announced the recipients of the 2013 Canada Gairdner Awards, recognizing some of the most significant medical discoveries around the world. This year’s winners showcase a broad range of new medical insights, from an innovative way to tackle cancers and infectious diseases to the identification of an effective method for the prevention and treatment of sexually transmitted diseases.

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 each scientist for their work.

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

Harvey J. Alter MD, Senior Investigator and Chief Infectious Diseases Section and Associate Director for Research, Department of Transfusion Medicine, National Institute of Health, Bethesda, Maryland, USA. Daniel W. Bradley PhD, Consultant: Infectious Diseases (I.D.) Viral Hepatitis, CDC, Georgia, USA. Michael Houghton, PhD, Canada Excellence in Research Chair, Professor, Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Canada. (Dr. Houghton has declined this award.) The combined research of these scientists led to the isolation and discovery of the hepatitis C virus and subsequent, preventative screening tests which have virtually eliminated the spread of the virus through blood-transfusions.

Stephen Joseph Elledge Ph.D., Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, US. Dr. Elledge’s research led to the identification and characterization of a signal transduction pathway, also known as the “anti-cancer pathway”, which senses and responds to DNA damage. These pathways are responsible for many things, most importantly detecting when cells have over-multiplied. When this detection occurs, the pathway sends a signal to the cell so it can begin to repair itself. This means that the pathway has the ability to suppress tumor development.

Sir Gregory Winter, CBE, FRS, Medical Research Council, Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK. Through his research, Sir Gregory Winter discovered how to create synthetic human antibodies against human targets (such as cancer and inflammatory disease) in a way where they will not be rejected by the immune system.

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:

King K. Holmes MD, PhD, University of Washington, Department of Global Health and Center for AIDS & STD, Washington, USA. Dr. Holmes’ career has been dedicated to the study of sexually transmitted diseases. His 45 years of cutting edge research and application of epidemiological, clinical, laboratory, and behavioural science to the study of STDs has expanded the scope of this field tremendously. Numerous clinical trials conducted by Dr. Holmes led to many diagnostic tests and standard-of-care therapies used today to treat and prevent such conditions as human papilloma virus (HPV), gonorrhea, chlamydial infections, and genital herpes, to name a few.

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

James C. Hogg MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of British Columbia, BC, Canada. Dr. Hogg’s early work with the late Dr. Peter Macklem at the Meakins Christie laboratories at McGill University established the small airway in the lung to be the obstruction site in COPD. This work has led to the current concept that this airway is a silent zone where the disease can accumulate over many years, unnoticed by COPD sufferers or their physicians. Dr. Hogg, along with his colleague Dr. Peter Pare, led the establishment of the University of British Columbia Pulmonary Research Laboratory at St. Paul’s Hospital, which now houses more than 200 staff, post graduate, graduate and undergraduate students. His work also led to a collaborative study with Dr. Avrum Spira of Boston University, uncovering a gene expression signature for the emphysematous destruction of the lung in COPD. This research also suggests that the gene expression could be reversed by a small tripeptide found in human blood, paving the way for a potential cure.

The Canada Gairdner Awards will be presented at a dinner in Toronto on October 24, 2013 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.

“The Canada Gairdner Awards distinguish Canada as a leader in biomedical research, raising the profile of science both nationally and on the world stage.” said Dr. John Dirks, president and scientific director of Gairdner. “The research conducted by the 2013 recipients has had profound implications on how we think about disease and has led to new achievements in medicine.”