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Vadim Bobyr

TORONTO — A Vancouver-based researcher is among this year’s winners of the $100,000 Canada Gairdner Awards for her contributions to the study of stem cells and commitment to the advancement of women in science.

Over five decades, Dr. Connie Jean Eaves, who co-founded the Terry Fox Laboratory at the British Columbia Cancer Agency, has conducted pioneering research into stem cells in the blood and mammary glands, and how they are altered in leukemia and breast cancer.

Along with her husband, Alan Eaves, she was part of a team that developed methodologies to detect and quantify blood and mammary gland stem cells in different situations. This led to the discovery of hidden suppressed normal blood stem cells in patients with leukemia, spurring new research into cancer therapies.

The University of British Columbia professor is receiving the Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, which recognizes outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science, both for her own accomplishments and dedication to boosting the careers of budding researchers, many of them women.

Six other scientists were named Gairdner laureates Tuesday. The awards, nicknamed “baby Nobels” because 89 Gairdner winners have gone on to earn Nobel Prizes, each come with a $100,000 cheque.

Harvard University professor Dr. Vikram Patel is being recognized with the 2019 John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award, which honours outstanding achievements in global health research, for putting a spotlight on the problem of mental health in the developing world.

Patel, who helped co-found a number of research initiatives such as the Indian non-profit Sangath, has won acclaim for his work linking the burden of mental disorders in low- and middle-income countries to factors like poverty and other public-health concerns.

Two researchers who helped illuminate the processes involved in DNA replication won Canada Gairdner International Awards for seminal discoveries or contributions to biomedical science.

Dr. Bruce Stillman of Cold Spring Harbor, N.Y., and London-based Dr. John F.X. Diffley are being honoured for their respective contributions towards understanding how cells copy DNA during division, which allows genetic material to be passed from one generation to the next. Mistakes in this process can lead to mutations that can kill cells, stop their division or cause them to grow uncontrollably, leading to tumours.

Stillman, president of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, is credited with the groundbreaking discovery of a protein complex that plays a key role in initiating the replication of chromosomes.

Diffley, associate research director of the Francis Crick Institute, has done research to show the molecular mechanisms involved in ensuring that DNA is duplicated just once every time a cell divides.

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

– Dr. Susan Band Horwitz, a cancer research chair at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, whose work played a key role in the development of Taxol, a natural product obtained from the yew tree, which is commonly prescribed to treat ovarian, breast and lung cancer.

– Dr. Ronald Vale, a professor of cellular molecular pharmacology at the University of California, San Francisco, whose research on molecular motor proteins has helped elucidate how living organisms generate motion.

– Dr. Timothy A. Springer, a Harvard Medical School professor and chairman of the Institute for Protein Innovation at Boston Children’s Hospital, whose discoveries have shaped understanding of cell-to-cell interactions that control immune responses, leading to new therapies for autoimmune diseases.

The Gairdner Foundation was established with a 1957 gift from James Gairdner, who wanted to celebrate international excellence in science.

By the Canadian Press

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