Two Yale Biologists Win 2006 Gairdner Awards for Medical Research

Joan A. Steitz

The 2006 Gairdner International Awards, among the most prestigious awards in science, will be presented to two Yale biologists and three other scientists for their breakthrough research on RNAs, cell motility and hormones.

“The 2006 awards honor outstanding achievements in our understanding of our cells with major ramifications for cancer, nutrition, auto-immune disease, atherosclerosis and hormone action,” said John Dirks, president of the Gairdner Foundation. The awards will be presented on October 26 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto.

Joan A. Steitz, Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale, and Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, will be honored for her “discovery of the reactivity of autoimmune sera with nuclear riboprotein particles and elucidation of the rules of small nuclear RNA in gene expression.”

Thomas D. Pollard, M.D.

Thomas D. Pollard, M.D., Sterling Professor and chair of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology at Yale will also receive the award. He will be recognized along with Alan Hall, FRS, chair of the Cell Biology Program at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York for their “discoveries related to understanding the cytoskeleton of the cell and the basis of cell motility and its relevance to human disease.”

The Gairdner Foundation was established in 1957 by Toronto businessman James A. Gairdner, a successful stockbroker and industrialist. Gairdner’s lifelong practical interest in clinical medicine and medical research led to his conviction that the achievements of medical scientists should be acknowledged in a tangible way.

Since 1959, the Gairdner International Awards have recognized extraordinary accomplishment in medical science; they are acknowledgements of achievement, rather than grants for the support of future research. The awards honor outstanding contributions by medical scientists worldwide whose work will significantly improve the quality of life. Of the 279 Gairdner winners, 65 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

Awardees are chosen in a two-stage process, through two medical advisory committees of leading Canadian and international medical scientists. Each prize carries a cash award of $CDN 30,000 (about $25,700). As part of the Gairdner’s mandate to communicate the work of medical researchers, each October, Gairdner winners visit universities across Canada and present academic lectures on their area of expertise.
In 2004, a Gairdner Award went to another member of the Yale faculty, Arthur L. Horwich, M.D., Higgins Professor of Genetics and Pediatrics, and Investigator Howard Hughes Medical Institute for his “fundamental discoveries concerning chaperone assisted protein folding in the cell and its relevance to neurodegeneration.”

Since 2003, the lead national sponsor of the Gairdner awards has been the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), the major federal agency responsible for funding health research in Canada that supports the work of 10,000 researchers in universities, teaching hospitals and research institutes across Canada.

To speak with John Dirks, President of the Gairdner Foundation, please contact: Bob Ramsay, 4l6-598-3970.

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