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Six of the world’s top scientists win 2008 Gairdner Awards for medical research


Toronto, ON – Three Canadians were among six winners of this year’s Gairdner Awards. The Gairdner International Awards are one of the most prestigious awards in all of science. Of the 288 Gairdner Awardees over the past 49 years, 70 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

“The 2008 awards honour outstanding achievements in some of the most promising areas of medical discovery,” says Dr John Dirks, president of the Gairdner Foundation. “The work of the 2008 awardees has significant implications for how we treat everything from cancer, heart disease and diabetes, to obesity, memory impairment, brain function and HIV.”

The 2008 awardees are:

– Dr Nahum Sonenberg, PhD, professor, department of biochemistry and McGill Cancer Centre, McGill University, Montreal. Dr Sonenberg discovered important mechanisms that control the synthesis of proteins in human cells. This led to the possibility of developing cures for diseases including cancer, obesity, memory impairment and virus infections.

– Dr Samuel Weiss, PhD, professor of cell biology and anatomy and pharmacology and therapeutics, University of Calgary, Calgary. Dr Weiss discovered that the adult brain produces stem cells that can be used to re-grow damaged neural tissue. This opens the possibility that areas of the brain or spinal cord damaged by accident or disease can be repaired by stem cells created by your own brain.

– Professor Harald zur Hausen, DSc., MD, professor emeritus and recent chairman and scientific director, German Cancer Research Centre, Heidelberg, Germany. Professor zur Hausen discovered that the human papilloma virus causes cervical cancer. This led directly to the development of the HPV vaccine.

– Dr Victor Ambros, PhD, Professor, department of molecular medicine, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Worcester, MA, and Dr Gary Ruvkun, PhD, Professor of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Worcester, MA. Dr Ambros and Dr Ruvkun, discoveredmicroRNAs. AsSciencereported last month: “A flood of studies show that microRNAs may offer a window into the development of various ailments, including cancer, diabetes, and heart failure, and provide a chance to strike disease targets that until now were unreachable.”

– Dr Alan Bernstein, OC, PhD, executive director, Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise, New York. Dr Bernstein is the 2008 Gairdner Wightman Awardee. He has made an outstanding contribution to Canadian health research as a scientist, a research institute director and as the inaugural President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

The importance of the Gairdners to Canada’s future as a world leader in scientific research was underscored when the federal government announced in its February budget a $20 million endowment to the Gairdner Foundation to increase its awards to $100,000 each and to create the world’s first individual award for Global Health. In 2009, they will be named the Canada Gairdner International Awards and the Canada Gairdner Global Health Award.

Established by Toronto businessman, James Gairdner, the Gairdner Foundation [www.gairdner.org] first recognized achievement in medical science in 1959. Since then, the Gairdners have recognized outstanding contributions by medical scientists worldwide whose work will significantly improve the quality of life.