2016 Canada Gairdner Award winners

Molecular Structure Concept


On March 23rd, The Gairdner Foundation announced the winners of the 2016 Canada Gairdner Awards, recognizing some of the most significant medical discoveries from around the world. This year the awards center on two defining themes including the revolutionary Clustered regularly-interspaced short palindromic repeats (CRISPR) technique for gene editing and for work in the HIV/AIDS field within Canada and internationally.

For only the second time in Gairdner’s history, all five of the Canada Gairdner International Awards are being given to one topic, and that is the revolutionary CRISPR-Cas technology. These five laureates are the youngest cohort of International winners in our Foundation’s history. The first two awards “for establishing and characterizing CRISPR-Cas bacterial immune defense system” are given to Dr. Rodolphe Barrangou of North Carolina State University, and DuPont Senior Scientist Dr. Philippe Horvath.

The next three awards are “for development of CRISPR-CAS as a genome editing tool for eukaryotic cells.” This was awarded to Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier of Umea University in Sweden, and Dr. Jennifer Doudna of University of California, Berkeley for publishing the description of new genome editing technology dubbed CRISPR-Cas9. The technology allows biologists to disable, activate or alter genes with efficiency and precision. Along with Drs. Charpentier and Doudna, Dr. Feng Zhang of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, was awarded the Canada Gairdner International Award. Dr. Zhang and colleagues developed a number of applications for studying biology and disease based on the CRISPR-Cas technology and discovered additional Cas enzymes with unique properties that further expand the genome editing toolbox.

The John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award recognizes an individual who is responsible for a scientific advancement that has made a significant impact on health in the developing world. The 2016 John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award goes to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. He is being awarded “for his many pioneering contributions to our understanding of HIV infections and his extraordinary leadership in bringing successful treatment to the developing world.” He has made critical contributions to the understanding of how HIV destroys the body’s immune defenses. His defining research on the mechanisms of HIV disease along with his work on developing and testing drug therapies have been highly influential in establishing the scientific basis for effective HIV therapies and prevention modalities for patients living with HIV/AIDS.

The 2016 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 Dr. Frank Plummer of the Public Health Agency of Canada and the University of Manitoba. He is being given this award “for his groundbreaking research in Africa in understanding HIV transmission and his leadership at the Canadian National Microbiology Laboratory with pivotal roles in SARS, influenza and Ebola epidemics.”

All seven laureates will be coming to Canada in October to visit 22 universities across the country to speak about their research with faculty, trainees, undergraduate and high school students. They will also be speaking at the University of Toronto on October 27 through our Minds that Matter Awardees Lecture. More details to come soon.