2 Canadians win Gairdner Awards for medicine

TORONTO — Two Canadian researchers are among the winners of this year’s Gairdner Awards, which recognize some of the most significant medical discoveries made by scientists around the globe.

Dr. Antoine Hakim, a professor emeritus of neurology at the University of Ottawa, and Dr. Lewis Kay, a senior scientist in molecular medicine at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children, are among seven international recipients of the 2017 awards announced Tuesday in Toronto.

The Gairdners, nicknamed the “baby Nobels” because 84 winners have gone on to win Nobel Prizes in physiology or medicine, each carry a $100,000 honorarium and will be presented at a gala dinner on Oct. 26.

Hakim was named recipient of the 2017 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, given to a Canadian who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science throughout his or her career.

He led efforts to set up the Canadian Stroke Network and then partnered with the Heart and Stroke Foundation and other organizations to develop the Canadian Stroke Strategy.

Kay, one of five scientists to receive a Canada Gairdner International Award for seminal discoveries or contributions to biomedical science, is being honoured for his work in the field of biomolecular nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy, and the development of methods used to “visualize” protein molecules. These methods have shed light on how molecules involved in neurodegeneration can form abnormal structures that ultimately lead to disease.

His research has led to new insights about what regions of molecules might be key targets for drug therapies. Kay’s method are used in labs worldwide, including those researching illnesses such as diabetes, cancer and cardiovascular disease.

The four other recipients of a Canada Gairdner International Award are:

— Dr. Akira Endo, president of Biopharm Research Laboratories and distinguished professor emeritus at the Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology, for the discovery and development of statins, medications that have transformed the prevention and treatment of cardiovascular disease.

— Dr. David Julius, chair of physiology and also molecular biology and medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, for determining the molecular basis of somatosensation — how people sense heat, cold and pain — and the role this system can play in chronic pain.

— Dr. Rino Rappuoli, chief scientist and head of external R&D at GSK Vaccines in Siena, Italy, for pioneering a genomic approach used to develop a vaccine against meningococcus B. His work led to the licensing of the first meningococcus B vaccine approved in Europe and Canada in 2013 and in the U.S. in 2015.

— Dr. Huda Zoghbi, director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, for the discovery of the genetic basis of Rett syndrome and its implications for autism spectrum disorders. Her discovery of the Rett syndrome gene provided a diagnostic test that allows for early diagnosis.

The 2017 John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award goes to Dr. Cesar Victora, professor emeritus at the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil, for a scientific advancement that has made a significant impact on health in the developing world.

Victora was cited for “outstanding contributions to maternal and child health and nutrition in low- and middle-income countries, with particular focus on the impact of exclusive breastfeeding on infant mortality and on the long-term impact of early-life nutrition.

In the 1980s, Victora led a study that showed the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for preventing infant mortality. His findings contributed to recommendations by UNICEF and the World Health Organization that mothers should breastfeed their infants exclusively for the first six months of life.

The Gairdner Foundation was established with a 1957 gift from James Gairdner, who wanted to celebrate international excellence in science. Since 1959, more than 360 winners from 30 countries have been recognized for their innovative work.

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