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Canadian scientist among Gairdner International Award winners for 2003


Toronto, ON April 8, 2003 John Dirks, president of the Gairdner Foundation, today announced the 2003 winners of its International Awards. These awards recognize outstanding contributions by medical scientists whose work will significantly improve the quality of life. The 44th annual Gairdner Awards honour achievement in neuroscience and immunology, two critical fields of inquiry and discovery.

This year’s winners include one Canadian scientist working in the United States, Ralph M Steinman. Dr Steinman is Henry G Kunkel professor and senior physician, The Rockefeller University, in New York. His research addresses the fundamental mechanisms of immunity and the interface of several disease states with the immune system. This includes studies aimed at developing vaccines and immune-based therapies for tumors, infections and autoimmune diseases. Dr Steinman discovered dendritic cells which are critical sentinels of the immune system differentiating between self and non-self, controlling responses from immune silencing (tolerance) to resistance (immunity).

The other winners include:

Richard Axel, Columbia University and investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute Center for Neurobiology and Behavior in New York, and Linda B Buck, Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, investigator of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, affiliate professor of Physiology and Biophysics at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle.

Through technical innovation and creative analysis of neural circuits, Drs Buck and Axel have revolutionized the studies of sensation. Their discoveries have set the framework for current understandings of odour perception and coding. Dr Buck continues to explore molecular biology and odour recognition. Dr Axel’s work on sensory reception has opened new vistas on the relationship between the environment and perception.

Wayne A Hendrickson, Columbia University, investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biophysics in New York. A preeminent structural biologists, Dr Hendrickson invented a method to speed the determination of atomic structures for biological molecules from the X-ray diffraction of crystals. Dr Hendrickson and his co-workers determined the structure of a key molecule that the AIDS virus uses to attach onto a human immune cell during infection. This spectacular result opens up a whole new approach to the design of HIV antiviral drugs.

Seiji Ogawa, director, Ogawa Laboratories for Brain Function Research, Hamano Life Science Research Foundation in Tokyo. Dr Ogawa’s seminal work in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has opened up entirely new directions in neuroscience. fMRI, a non-invasive method for imaging areas of the brain, has produced a technological revolution in cognitive neuroscience and is being explored in such clinical domains as ageing and pre-surgical mapping.

“The 2003 Gairdner Award winners have done elegant, provocative and essential work in neuroscience and immunology,” says John Dirks. “They have provided us with insight into the immune system, thereby facilitating the design of new and powerful therapies. They have enhanced our understanding of the function of the brain, creating a new appreciation of the intricate mechanism that controls our lives.

All of the 2004 Gairdner winners will accept their awards, each of which carry a value of $30,000, at a gala dinner in Toronto on October 23rd.

This year, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research has joined as the foundation’s lead national sponsor. Through its sponsorship, the Gairdner Foundation will mount a national program of public lectures by Gairdner Award winners and a public symposium in Toronto in October.

Established in 1957 by Toronto businessman James Gairdner, the Gairdner Foundation (www.gairdner.org) first recognised achievement in medical science in 1959. Each winner receives $30,000. Of the past 264 International Awardees, in a variety of disciplines from genetic research to cancer therapy, the foundation says 59 have gone on to win a Nobel Prize.