2013 Canada Gairdner Awards honour new medical insights

Canada's respected awards identify the world's most promising medical discoveries

TORONTO, March 20, 2013 /CNW/ - The Gairdner Foundation is pleased to announce 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 challenge: After hepatitis A and B were discovered, a new virus emerged that could not be identified through traditional methods of viral detection. This new virus was frequently transmitted through blood transfusion, possibly leading to serious consequences such as cirrhosis (liver scarring), liver failure and even death.

    The work: 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.

    Why it matters: Chronic hepatitis C virus affects approximately 150 million people worldwide  and can lead to liver failure, liver cancer and even death. In fact, over 350,000 people, globally, die each year from hepatitis C-related liver diseases. Diagnosis of the hepatitis C virus is now a reality and has led to treatment which can cure most patients.  In hepatitis B virus and HIV infections, treatment can only control the virus, whereas in hepatitis C, treatment can eradicate the virus completely.

  • Stephen Joseph Elledge Ph.D., Department of Genetics, Harvard Medical School, Boston, US

    The challenge: Since 1953 we have known that DNA governs the development and functioning of all known living organisms, but the area of DNA damage remained a mystery.

    The work: 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.

    Why it matters: Dr. Elledge's pioneering work has laid the foundation for our current understanding of DNA damage response and has informed the important field of genome instability. The discovery of signal transduction pathways lead to a new way of thinking about DNA damage. Knowledge about the inner working of this sensory pathway has led to a better understanding of how cancer occurs as well as different ways of treating it.
  • Sir Gregory Winter, CBE, FRS, Medical Research Council, Laboratory of Molecular Biology, Cambridge, UK

    The challenge: In nature, antibodies help defend us against infectious agents such as viruses and bacteria, and for more than a century, scientists have tried to turn them against cancer. Although they succeeded in turning mouse antibodies against human cancers, when these antibodies were injected into patients to treat the cancer, they were seen as foreign and rejected by the immune system.

    The work: 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.

    Why it matters: Sir Gregory Winter's work in the development of antibodies for therapeutic use has led to the development of modern treatments targeted against many of the most detrimental and widespread diseases including many cancers, infectious diseases and inflammatory conditions including Herceptin, Avastin, and Humira.

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:

  • King K. Holmes MD, PhD, University of Washington, Department of Global Health and Center for AIDS & STD, Washington, USA

    The challenge: Sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) and HIV/AIDS are among the leading causes of morbidity and mortality in many developing countries worldwide. In the early 1960s there were approximately six STDs described in textbooks and very little research was happening in sexually transmitted infections. In fact, there were not many medical centers where clinical care was offered for patients with STDs, who were left with few resources.

    The work: 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.

    Why it matters: Today, over 35 have been discovered, with Dr. Holmes and his mentees working on approximately 20 of these. Dr. Holmes assisted in defining the causes of many major diseases and through leading numerous clinical trials, has paved the way for many standard-of-care therapies used to treat STDs today.

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

  • James C. Hogg MD, PhD, Professor Emeritus, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, University of British Columbia, BC, Canada

    The challenge: According to Health Canada, more than 700,000 Canadians have been diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD). Thousands more have the disease, but have not been diagnosed. There is currently no cure for COPD.

    The work: 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.

    Why it matters: Dr. Hogg's research, achieved over a 40 year career, continues to have a fundamental impact on the medical community's knowledge of the pathogenesis, diagnosis and treatment of COPD. Recent results suggest a new direction which could lead to a treatment capable of reversing emphysematous destruction of lung tissue in COPD. Moreover his work stresses the importance of finding a way to diagnose COPD before symptoms appear, allowing for potential prevention of the disease. In addition to his own work, Dr. Hogg has made major contributions to building the Canadian research community locally and nationally. He has also made international contributions in the evaluation of research.

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."

The Canada Gairdner Awards promote a stronger culture of research and innovation across the country, inspiring a new generation of researchers.

The Gairdner Foundation: Making Science Matter

The Canada Gairdner Awards were created in 1959 to recognize and reward the achievements of medical researchers whose work contributes significantly to improving the quality of human life. They are Canada's only globally known and respected international science awards, and Gairdner is the only national organization that consistently brings the world's best biomedical researchers to Canada to share their ideas and work with scientists across the country. In so doing, it enlarges networks and enhances Canada's international reputation, while providing a realistic and unbiased benchmark for Canada's leading scientists.


SOURCE: Gairdner Foundation

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Molly Chudnovsky

Candice Bruton

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