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2012 Canada Gairdner Awards honour new medical insights

March 21, 2012

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

TORONTO, March 21, 2012 /PRNewswire/ – The Gairdner Foundation is pleased to
announce 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 2012 winners
follow here.

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, Ph.D.,Professor Emeritus of Biology, Brandeis
            University, Waltham, MA
        --  Michael Rosbash, Ph.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute,
            Department of Biology, Brandeis University, Waltham, MA
        --  Michael W. Young, Ph.D.,Laboratory of Genetics, The Rockefeller
            University, New York, NY

            The challenge: We've known for centuries that our bodies are
            controlled by a biological clock, but how that biological clock
            works has remained a mystery. How does this internal clock
            guide our bodies through the day?

            The work: 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.

            Why it matters: Circadian clocks affect patterns of sleep and
            wakefulness, metabolism, and our response to disease.
            Understanding how the biological clock works has already
            allowed scientists to pinpoint irregularities in important
            sleep disorders.
        --  Thomas M. Jessell, Ph.D., Howard Hughes Medical Institute,
            Kavli Institute for Brain Science, Columbia University Medical
            Center, New York, NY

            The challenge:Through communication between the sensory neuron
            and the motor neuron in our bodies' nervous system, we acquire
            the ability to move and react to the world around us. But
            little was known about how these neurons communicate with each
            other.

            The work: 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, Dr. Jessell 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.

            Why it matters: As a result of this discovery, we have the
            potential to create interventional strategies to treat and cure
            neurodegenerative diseases such as Amyotrophic Lateral
            Sclerosis (ALS) and Spinal Muscular Atrophy (SMA), where a
            problem with the circuit connection between the sensory neuron
            and the motor neuron prevents our minds and bodies from
            reacting properly to what we sense around us. Similarly, we now
            have the potential to restore movement in patients with spinal
            cord injury or paralysis.
        --  Jeffrey V. Ravetch, Ph.D., M.D.,Theresa and Eugene Lang
            Professor; Head, Leonard Wagner Laboratory of Molecular
            Genetics and Immunology, The Rockefeller University, New York,
            NY

            The challenge:Historically, science has shown that our immune
            systems' primary function is to help combat viruses and
            bacteria. Yet, the immune system, when dysfunctional, can also
            cause autoimmune diseases and severe health consequences.

            The work: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.

            Why it matters: By identifying how antibodies work, and how
            autoantibodies can be manipulated to prevent them from doing
            harm, Dr. Ravetch's work paves the way to understanding how to
            develop therapies for various autoimmune diseases such as lupus
            and arthritis, as well as cancer and infectious diseases.

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, M.D., London School of Hygiene and Tropical
            Medicine, London, UK

            The challenge: Meningitis, pneumonia, and malaria - cyclical
            diseases dictated by seasonal weather patterns - are some of
            the most prominent causes of mortality in young children
            throughout the developing world, especially in Africa.

            The work: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 antimalarial drugs given during the rainy season.

            Why it matters:Dr. Greenwood and his colleagues proved that
            insecticide-treated bed nets and preventive treatment reduced
            child mortality by a third. He also showed that vaccinations
            were highly effective against meningitis and pneumonia. His
            research has contributed to several policy recommendations by
            the World Health Organization (WHO) and he is considered by
            many as the leading figure in international health and tropical
            medicine.

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, Ph.D., D.Sc., FRSC,Vice-President
            (Research), University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB

            The challenge:Over 30 newly emerging and reemerging diseases
            have occurred over the last 30 years, 70 per cent of which have
            been transmitted from animals to humans. These diseases are the
            cause of significant mortality and morbidity and international
            infrastructure was needed to address this problem.

            The work: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.

            Why it matters: The World Health Organization estimates that
            approximately one-third of all human deaths are caused by
            infectious disease. Dr. Babiuk's work has shown how diseases
            can be transmitted from animals to humans, and how innovative
            vaccines will help to bring down the number of deaths caused by
            infectious disease.

The Canada Gairdner Awards will be presented at a dinner in Toronto on
October 25th 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.”

The Canada Gairdner Awards distinguish Canada internationally as a
leader in science, and are one part of Gairdner’s efforts to promote a
stronger culture of research and innovation across the country.

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


Source: PR Newswire