Dive into the world of science behind our 2021 Canada Gairdner Awards laureates.

Partnering with the Michael Smith Laboratories at the University of British Columbia (UBC) and the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences (CSMB), we have created a series of animated videos and illustrated materials that help explain the work and research that some of our 2021 Canada Gairdner award winners have accomplished.

We are so proud to celebrate the innovative work of our 2021 laureates and we want to share their brilliant research in a fun and easy to understand way. That’s why we have partnered with UBC, CSMB, and the talented illustrator Armin Mortazavi to create a selection of entertaining educational materials for the third year in a row.

Science is so important, now more than ever. We encourage you to engage with these materials and share them online to help spread the joy of understanding that science can bring to our lives. 

Visit the links below to download the materials.

Canada Gairdner Awards 2021 Laureate Education Materials (Full package)

The Molecular Elements of Diabetes by Daniel Drucker, Joel Habener, and Jens Holst

Click here to watch The Molecular Elements of Diabetes animated video.  

From the Lab Bench to the Hospital Bed by  Elizabeth Eisenhauer 

Click here to watch the From the Lab Bench to the Hospital Bed animated video.  

Virus Trackers and Preventing Pandemics by Guan Yi and Joseph Malik Peiris

Click here to watch the Virus Trackers and Preventing Pandemics animated video.

Discovering the Breast Cancer Gene by Mary-Claire King 

Click here to watch the Discovering the Breast Cancer Gene animated video. 

Check out the full playlist of these animated videos right here. 

For classroom activities and discussion questions based on our 2021 Canada Gairdner Award laureates and their work, click here. 

Register for Gairdner Science Week to hear from these incredible scientists, and much more, in our week full of LIVE events! And tune in on October 28th to watch as our 2021 laureates receive their Canada Gairdner Awards!

Many thanks to all the students who contributed to this amazing project: Brenna Hay, Sarah Laframboise, David Ng, Farah Qaiser, Zahra Sepehri, Rhonda Thygesen, and Nicole Wang.

Illustrations by Armin Mortazavi

For more information about the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences, please visit https://csmb-scbm.ca

For more information about the UBC Michael Smith Laboratories, please visit https://www.msl.ubc.ca 

If you have any questions, please contact Jocelyn Togeretz, jocelyn@gairdner.org


Call for Submissions: Gairdner Early Career Investigator Competition

We invite early career investigators across Canada to submit an application to present their research as part of the Gairdner Science Week virtual events in October. Four investigators will be chosen to give 15 minute talks in association with the Laureate Lectures on October 28, 2021 and to participate in a networking session with the 2021 laureates. The talks will be broadcast live and recorded for YouTube distribution globally.

This is a competitive process, with the finalists being selected by the laureates themselves. Applicants must indicate one of the following laureate options as their intended match:

– Daniel Drucker/Joel Habener/Jens Juul Host
– Mary-Claire King
– Joseph SM Peiris/ Yi Guan
– Elizabeth Eisenhauer

To learn more about the laureates and their award-winning work, visit gairdner.org

Submissions should include a 100 word summary of your research presentation, plus a two (2) minute video explaining how your science relates to one or more of this year’s laureates and what you hope to learn from your interactions with them. If you wish to use slides in your video we request no more than two (2) be included.

This call is open to all faculty and professionals at the Assistant Professor or equivalent rank.

Only one submission allowed per individual.

Submission Due Date:                August 1, 2021               11:59 PM PDT


The Gairdner Foundation confirms its strong commitment to Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI). Throughout the activities associated with the Canada Gairdner Awards program and associated Canadian and Global outreach programs, Gairdner strives to engage and promote the active participation of individuals of diverse backgrounds and abilities and embraces diverse perspectives in research.

If you have any questions or have any accommodation requirements, please contact Sarah Devonshire at sarah@gairdner.org

By Farah Qaiser

Farah Qaiser recently completed a Master of Science at the University of Toronto, where she carried out DNA sequencing to better understand complex neurological disorders. When not in the lab, Farah enjoys writing about science and scientists for various media outlets and is one of the co-founders of the Toronto Science Policy Network.


In December 2020, the Gairdner Foundation, the Council Of Canadian Academies (CCA), the Krembil Foundation and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute partnered to host Breaking Through: Delivering On The Promise Of Gene Therapy, a two-day long 2020 Gairdner Ontario International Symposium about gene therapy research and practice.

This symposium explored different aspects related to the recently published CCA report, titled From Research to Reality. In this report, the Expert Panel on the Approval and Use of Somatic Gene Therapies in Canada assessed existing evidence to describe the steps, barriers and challenges involved in the approval and use of gene therapies in Canada. The symposium’s closing panel discussion, titled Coming Soon – The Future Of Gene Editing And Gene Therapies, explored the future of gene therapies and gene editing. To date, there are very few gene therapies which have been approved for use in Canada, including Novartis’ Kymriah and Zolgensma, Gilead’s Yescarta and Biogen’s Spinraza, making this discussion a very timely one.

In this post, I’ll highlight some of the key takeaways from the Coming Soon – The Future Of Gene Editing And Gene Therapies panel. This panel was presented by Genome Canada, with Dr. Rob Annan (Genome Canada’s President and CEO) as the moderator. (Panel recordings can be found here in English and French.)

“This topic is certainly close to our hearts at Genome Canada, so we’re really excited to take part and listen to the great experts we have lined up for the discussion,” said Annan in his opening remarks, and then asked panelists to share what considerations need to be kept in mind when it comes to germline editing i.e., genetic changes which can be passed on to future generations.

“At this point, all the indications are that the way we can do gene editing today [that] although it might work for somatic gene editing for diseases, where you’re just treating cells in a person, the risks of doing that in an early embryo and any things that go wrong would be carried forward to the rest of that baby’s life. It’s not safe and precise enough, and it’s not clear that this is really practical at the current time,” said Dr. Janet Rossant, who is the Gairdner Foundations’ current President and Scientific Director, and also served on the expert panel which informed the CCA report. “This just illustrates that when you’re stepping into these areas of complex technologies and complex ethical implications, you have to not just look at what’s happening today, but you have to put yourself in the future and try to think down the line what the future is going to look like and start to have conversations now on how we would deal with those ethical issues coming down the line.”

Different countries will choose to regulate access to gene therapies differently, which may give rise to medical tourism. R. Alta Charo (J.D.), who is a professor of law and bioethics at the University of Wisconsin, remarked that when it comes to embryonic stem cell research and therapies over the past 25 years, “we’ve had a number of jurisdictions who became famous for basically allowing people to sell snake oil. I think that in both germline and somatic editing, we are going to run the same risk of snake oil clinics.” Charo also noted that for most of the world, one of the more important applications of gene editing will be in the agricultural sector, such as editing plant genomes to adapt to climate change and provide a sustainable food supply.

Dr. Eric Meslin, who is the President and CEO of CCA, took a retrospective perspective, and remarked: “How much of this have we heard about or thought about before? Are there some lessons in the past that we should try to not only remember but actually try to learn from?” Meslin said that “we don’t have to start from scratch” as there are many case examples to turn to, such as in vitro fertilization (IVF), and that “there is uneven development and diffusion of these technologies across the global north and the global south”, flagging that there are broader issues of unequal access and care to consider too.

Moving to a communications angle, Jay Ingram, the former co-host of CBC’s Quirks and Quarks, and its TV counterpart, Discovery Channel Canada’s Daily Planet, remarked that “I think what’s really important as we go along is to think: how do we better prepare the communications at every level, country to country, medical expert to politician, CEO to patients […] to be a lot better at it?”

Dr. Vardit Ravitsky, an Associate Professor at the Université de Montréal, flagged two broader issues to keep in mind when it comes to the ethics of genetic research.

“One is the issue of research burden. Where do we do this research?” said Ravitsky. “To edit eggs and embryos, we need egg donors. We need access to ova. That is often an overlooked issue because the places where we go to get this precious resource is sometimes low-income countries, where women ‘donate’ for money. Are they protected locally by research ethic guidelines where they are, in their nations? That’s a huge global issue of justice that is way ahead of the therapies we’re hoping to achieve. It’s about the burden of the research itself. […] Here, in Canada, we banned this research completely, which on one hand, protects egg donors, but on the other hand, may cause reproductive tourism in the future.”

A second issue is that of justice in relation to future generations. Ravitsky said that “the issue becomes: how do we follow up with those that we have created with the technology, to be sure that they’re in good health? First of all, [we need to] just take into account that we’re experimenting on future generations, and second of all, develop mechanisms for including these future generations in follow-up longitudinal research, but without coercing them to remain our research participants.”

To end the panel, Annan asked: « When you turn your eyes to the year 2030, where do you see us going for gene editing? »

Panelists had different suggestions, with Charo predicting that there would be development in the areas of epigenetic editing and in utero somatic editing. Ravitsky predicted that given the lack of international regulatory frameworks, “we will actually have a small cohort of genetically edited babies within ten years that we will have to study.”

“Whenever I’m asked to predict what was going to happen ten years ahead, I always say that I have no idea because if I stepped ten years back, and asked what would we be doing in 2020, just in the area of gene therapy and gene editing alone, let alone more broad-based issues around pandemics and everything else, I would never have predicted where we are today,” said Rossant. “I do think that we are on a very strong and fast path to see real developments of gene editing and gene therapies that are going to have some impact on some major diseases.”

Recordings from the Breaking Through: Delivering On The Promise Of Gene Therapy symposium can be found on the CCA’s YouTube channel.

By Farah Qaiser

Farah Qaiser recently completed a Master of Science at the University of Toronto, where she carried out DNA sequencing to better understand complex neurological disorders. When not in the lab, Farah enjoys writing about science and scientists for various media outlets and is one of the co-founders of the Toronto Science Policy Network.

Since 1957, the Gairdner Foundation has distributed 395 Canada Gairdner Awards to the world’s leading biomedical and global health researchers. Of those awardees, 95 have gone on to receive Nobel Prizes, with the most recent examples being Dr. Jennifer Doudna and Dr. Emmanuelle Charpentier for their development of CRISPR-Cas as a genome editing tool. This year’s winners include researchers who have contributed in different but overlapping ways to our understanding of how cells interact with each other and with their extracellular environment.

On the 22nd and 23rd of October 2020, the 2020 Canada Gairdner Laureate lectures took place virtually, moderated by Dr. Janet Rossant, who is the current President and Scientific Director of the Gairdner Foundation.

In this post, I’ll highlight some of the key take-aways from the 2020 Canada Gairdner Laureate Lectures.


Dr. Rolf Kemler
Canada Gairdner International Award 2020

Like Dr. Masatoshi Takeichi, Kemler used experimental techniques to identify and better understand cadherins, a calcium-binding protein responsible for holding cells together. In his lecture, Kemler shared some of the data that drove early efforts and highlighted how the use of an immunological approach, specifically antibodies targeting the surface antigens in early mouse embryos, enabled him to clone the cadherin gene, demonstrate the protein’s critical role in cell adhesion, and identify other interacting proteins, such as β-catenin (now known to be a key component of the Wnt signalling pathway).

What is Kemler’s hypothesis today? He suggests that the amino acid Lysine-49 is a hotspot for the regulation of β-catenin, whose specific activity is modulated through activities such as methylation and acetylation. But to confirm this hypothesis, additional investigation will be necessary.


Dr. Masatoshi Takeichi
Canada Gairdner International Award 2020

Takeichi recounted the journey involved in discovering and characterizing the biology of cadherins in animal cell adhesion and signalling – a feat for which Takeichi was co-awarded a Canada Gairdner International Award 2020, alongside Dr. Rolf Kemler. This journey started when Takeichi noticed something odd: that newly plated cells suspended in conditioned media attached to the surface of culture dishes more slowly, than those suspended without conditioned media.

Throughout the course of a long, winding research career across multiple continents, Takeichi found that cadherins could explain this odd phenomenon: that cadherins bound cells together, and that cells with the same cadherins tend to cluster together, explaining how different cells are sorted and organized to form functional organs.


Dr. Mina Bissell
Canada Gairdner International Award 2020

Bissell began her lecture by posing the question: “Why don’t we get more cancer? How do 10 to 70 trillion cells, each with the same genetic information, coordinate to make you, you?” Bissell explained that she chose the mammary gland as an experimental organism to explore questions such as these, given that the gland develops again and again in female mammals, just like an organism.

Bissell’s work showed that the extracellular matrix could regulate gene expression (and vice versa) in both normal and diseased tissues. Her research group’s studies also characterized “Dynamic Reciprocity”, which is a term that refers to the ongoing interactions between cells and their microenvironment. This isn’t a one-way dialogue – it’s a bidirectional interaction. Bissell ended her talk by acknowledging the many students and post-doctoral fellows in her lab, and implored to young scientists that this is a whole new horizon.

“You have a whole life – go do something with it!” said Bissell.


Dr. Elaine Fuchs
Canada Gairdner International Award 2020

For Fuchs, a talk about skin stem cells in the early days of her graduate studies immediately hooked her into this exciting field. Here, stem cells refer to the building blocks of tissues and organs. Their key properties include self-renewal (i.e. the ability to divide infinitely) and the potential to differentiate into different cell types, such as cardiac cells.

Fuchs investigated stem cells throughout her forty year research career, and shared various findings about what her research group has learned about the role of tissue stem cells in homeostasis, wound repair and cancer, including the fact that stem cells are largely in charge of their behaviour and that stem cells receive hair regenerative cues to initiate hair growth.

« I cannot tell you what we’ll be doing in the next decade, » said Fuchs in her closing remarks, but said that she can confidently share that she is continuing to work with a wonderful group of students and post-doctoral fellows.


Dr. Guy Rouleau
Canada Gairdner Wightman Award 2020

In his talk, titled “From Neurogenetics to Open Science,” Rouleau first explain the concept of missing heritability: the idea that despite progress in identifying genes implicated in disorders such as ALS, new genes can only explain a limited number of cases, suggesting that other reasons may explain this discrepancy, such as de novo mutations (i.e. a mutation which is first found in an individual, and not their parents). Rouleau shared his research group’s efforts in identifying and elucidating the genetic architecture of neurological and psychiatric diseases, including ALS, autism and schizophrenia. He noted that there are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of genes which predispose an individual to neurodevelopmental disorders, where de novo mutations are an important cause.

Rouleau also introduced lecture attendees to the concept of Open Science, saying that this is a game-changer for the field of neuroscience as it will break down barriers for collaboration, allow for faster data reproduction, and leverages the potential for big data and personalized medicine. Rouleau explained how The Neuro is developing and implementing Open Science, and invited all those interested in learning more to attend the upcoming The Neuro-Gairdner Open Science Symposium.


Drs Quarraisha & Salim Abdool Karim
John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award 2020

Dr. Quarraisha Abdool Karim began her lecture by explaining that in the 1990s, the existing HIV prevention strategies were limited to the ABCCs (abstinence, behaviour i.e. to be faithful, and condoms), which were insufficient prevention tools for young women as each depended on the cooperation of their partners.

Over a thirty-year research career, the Karims successfully developed a Tenofovir gel, demonstrating that antiretrovirals prevent sexual transmission of HIV, and provided an option for women to protect themselves. This laid the foundations for pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), an HIV prevention strategy that is contributing to the reduction of HIV infections around the world.

« Why are we still working on this 30 years later? » asked Dr. Salim Abdool Karim in his closing remarks. He noted that while there has been great progress, we are still lagging behind in the prevention of HIV infections. The Karims are now testing a newer version of Tenofovir, called Tenofovir Elafenamide, to develop an arm implant to place in women, like a contraceptive implant.


Dr. Roel Nusse
Canada Gairdner International Award 2020

In his lecture, Nusse walked attendees through key findings from his research career, including his pioneering work on the Wnt signaling pathway, which is an evolutionarily conserved pathway that regulates processes such as cell migration and cell polarity, and plays an important role in development, cancer and stem cells.

Nusse and Harold Varmus discovered the first mammalian Wnt gene as an oncogene (cancer-causing gene) in mouse breast cancer, and afterwards, Nusse identified Wingless, a key Drosophila (fruitfly) developmental gene. Using Drosophila genetics, Nusse’s research group has continued to elucidate the mechanism and role of Wnt signaling over many years, leading to the general realization of the links between normal development and cancer.


Catch up on tweets from the 2020 Canada Gairdner Laureate lectures here. You can also learn more about each of the 2020 Laureates in this series of articles, comics, videos and accompanying lesson ideas, created in collaboration with the Canadian Society of Molecular Biosciences and the Michael Smith Laboratories.

Presentation slides for the speaker sessions from « SDGs and Global Health through the Pandemic Lens » are available for download below.

These files are for personal use only. By accessing them you agree to credit appropriate sources  when referencing them and their contents, and that they will not be used for commercial purposes. 

Zulfiqar Bhutta Health and Health-related SDGs: Where are we after 5 years?

Quarraisha & Salim Abdool Karim Lessons from HIV for the COVID-19 Response

Anthony Fauci Emerging and Re-Emerging Infectious Diseases: From AIDS to COVID-19

Lawrence Haddad COVID-19 and Global Malnutrition: A sting in the tail of a chance to remake our food systems

Yasmin Chandani Building Resilient Health Supply Chains to Achieve SDGs: 2020 and beyond

Soumya Swaminathan COVID-19: Lesson for Public Health and Clinical Practice

Sania Nishtar Ehsaas Emergency Cash: Digital Transformations within Government in the COVID-19 Context

Cleopatra Mugyenyi Nowhere to Turn: Youth, SRH and GBV During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Peter Piot The Age of Pandemics: How to prepare and how to respond

The Gairdner Foundation would like to thank London Drugs for supporting the development of these materials.


In collaboration with CSMB and the Michael Smith Laboratories at UBC, these materials were produced to provide a series of articles, comics, videos and accompanying lesson ideas to celebrate the science of a selection of the 2020 Canada Gairdner Awardees. This builds on the Gairdner Foundation’s partnership with CSMB and Michael Smith Laboratories at UBC, which began last year.

We invite you to view and share these documents widely, as they highlight the impact science has in our lives and our understanding of the world.

Visit the links to below to download the materials.

Canada Gairdner Awards 2020 Laureate Education Materials (Full package)

The Elixir of Life and Our Skin Elaine Fuchs

Watch the animated video here

Cadherin and Catenins: A Sticky Situation Masatoshi Takeichi & Rolf Kemler

Watch the animated video here

Of Patterns and Cancer in Mice and Flies Roel Nusse

Watch the animated video here

Mammary Gland Mysteries, Solved Mina Bissell

Watch the animated video here

From Genes in the Brain to Medicine Guy Rouleau

Watch the animated video here

Beyond the ABCs: How to Prevent HIV Quarraisha & Salim Abdool Karim

Watch the animated video here


Video: Watch the comics come to life here.

Activities and discussion questions for classroom use. 

Thank you to the  students who contributed to this project: Daniela Salas Acosta, Shawn Shortill, Krysta Coyle, Heather Gerrie, Farah Qaiser and Alison McAfee.

Illustrations by Armin Mortazavi

For more information about the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences, please visit https://csmb-scbm.ca/

For more information about the UBC Michael Smith Laboratories, please visit https://www.msl.ubc.ca

If you have any questions, please contact Kelty Reid kelty@gairdner.org

Ontario Call Proposal

Please Note: For the first round of the 2021 Call we are only considering digital events. Should this change for later evaluation rounds, this will be clearly indicated.

APPLICATION PORTAL: bit.ly/OntarioCall2021

The Gairdner Foundation in partnership with the Krembil Foundation are working to promote excellence and involvement in science in the province of Ontario. We are issuing an open call to all scientific organizations, research institutions and universities for support of digital/virtual events in health research and medicine to be held in 2021.

Events should be unique, free or low cost to attendees, and represent the Gairdner dedication to excellence in research. We strongly encourage public engagement and will also provide in-kind communications and outreach assistance. French, English and bilingual programs are all eligible for this call.

This program is not intended to support annual meetings, administrative costs or as a research grant of any kind.

There are two event types we can support:
• Scientific Symposium
• Gairdner Global Perspectives Panel

Scientific Symposium
Programs that focus on recent scientific advances and bring extraordinary international science to Ontario, while highlighting the excellence of Ontario and Canadian researchers. Potential programs would largely be stand-alone scientific symposia on a current and growing area of life sciences and medicine.

Gairdner Global Perspectives Panel
Gairdner Global Perspectives Panels are a webinar series that showcase Canada Gairdner laureates alongside outstanding Canadian and international scientists to provide unique insights on a current, important topic in biomedicine or global health. Special emphasis on topics of wide relevance to the public, policy makers and a global audience.

We encourage the inclusion of public and student engagement at all events.


Applicants much recognize the program as a Gairdner Event, and uphold the Foundation’s policies of responsibility, leadership and equity. Programs will be developed in consultation with Gairdner staff and we strongly encourage the inclusion of Gairdner Laureates and representatives where possible and appropriate.

The overall fund can be divided among selected proposals at the discretion of the Gairdner Foundation.

Proposals must be robust, inclusive and reach a significant audience. They also must include a proposed budget of how the funds will be spent.

There will be a post-event reporting requirement.


To be considered in the first round of evaluations, applications must be submitted by October 31, 2020. Further evaluations will be announced depending on the availability of funds. Decisions will be provided to applicants within 4 weeks of submission.

Submissions will be evaluated by a panel of Canadian researchers with a wide range of expertise and familiarity with the Canadian and Ontario research environments.


La Fondation Gairdner, en partenariat avec le FRQ-S, dispose d’un fonds établi pour la promotion de la culture et de la réussite scientifique au Québec. Nous lançons un appel ouvert à toutes les organisations scientifiques, institutions de recherche et universités dans les domaines de la biologie humaine et de la médecine pour des événements qui se tiendront en 2021.

Les événements doivent avoir un caractère unique, être gratuits ou à coût modique pour les participants et refléter l’engagement de Gairdner envers l’excellence en recherche. Nous encourageons fortement la participation en ligne et nous fournirons une aide en nature pour les communications. Les programmes en français, en anglais et bilingues sont admissibles à cet appel.

Ce programme n’est pas destiné à financer des rencontres annuelles, des frais administratifs ou une subvention de recherche de quelque nature que ce soit.

Les propositions peuvent cibler les trois volets suivants :

Volet Développement des talents(jusqu’à 5 000 $)
Des programmes qui s’adressent aux étudiants du secondaire et du premier cycle universitaire en vue d’inspirer la prochaine génération de scientifiques et d’innovateurs. Les programmes proposés pourraient inclure des concours, des conférenciers invités ou des conférences d’étudiants.

Volet Engagement du public (jusqu’à 15 000 $)
Des programmes qui introduisent une science extraordinaire dans le discours et l’intérêt public, en ciblant un auditoire profane et un éventail d’intervenants possibles. Les programmes proposés pourraient inclure des conférences publiques, des séances de discussion ouverte et des tables rondes.

Volet Célébration de l’excellence (jusqu’à 25 000 $)
Des programmes qui mettent l’accent sur des avancées scientifiques récentes et apportent au Québec une science internationale exceptionnelle, tout en soulignant l’excellence des chercheurs québécois. Les programmes proposés seraient pour l’essentiel des colloques scientifiques indépendants portant sur un domaine actuel et en plein essor de la biologie humaine ou de la médecine. Nous encourageons également la participation du public et des étudiants à ces événements.

Lignes directrices

Les candidats doivent reconnaître le programme comme un événement Gairdner et respecter les politiques de responsabilité, de leadership et d’équité de la Fondation. Les programmes seront élaborés en consultation avec le personnel de Gairdner et nous encourageons fortement l’inclusion de lauréats et de représentants de Gairdner lorsque cela est possible et approprié. Le fonds global sera réparti entre les propositions retenues à la discrétion de la Fondation Gairdner.

Le montant minimum d’une demande de financement est de 2 500 $ pour garantir que les propositions sont solides, inclusives et atteignent un public important. Les demandes doivent inclure un projet de budget montrant comment les fonds seront dépensés.

Les proposants retenus devront présenter un rapport après la tenue de l’événement.


Les demandes seront acceptées sur une base continue entre le 1er septembre 2020 et le 1er septembre 2021. Nous exigeons que toute proposition soit soumise au moins 12 semaines avant la date prévue de l’événement proposé. Les décisions seront communiquées aux candidats dans les 4 semaines suivant la présentation de la demande.

Les demandes seront évaluées par un comité de chercheurs canadiens possédant une vaste expertise et une bonne connaissance des milieux de la recherche canadien et québécois.

En s’efforçant de récompenser l’excellence scientifique et d’inspirer ceux qui suivront, Gairdner embrasse diverses perspectives de recherche. Dans tout l’éventail des activités associées au programme des Prix Canada Gairdner et aux programmes connexes de sensibilisation au Canada et à l’étranger, Gairdner s’emploie à mobiliser et à promouvoir la participation active de personnes d’origines et de capacités diversifiées.

Des questions?   sarah@gairdner.org

By Farah Qaiser

Farah Qaiser is a graduate student at the University of Toronto, where she carries out DNA sequencing to better understand complex neurological disorders. When not in the lab, Farah enjoys writing about science and scientists for various media outlets and is one of the co-founders of the Toronto Science Policy Network.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the Canadian government and various funding organizations have invested over one billion dollars into Canada’s COVID-19 research response.

On 29 June 2020, the Gairdner Foundation invited ten leaders to speak about three different aspects of Canada’s scientific response to the pandemic, specifically: vaccine efforts, population-wide research and impact, and co-ordination and collaboration. This panel was moderated by Dr. Janet Rossant, who is the current President and Scientific Director of the Gairdner Foundation.

In her opening remarks, Dr. Mona Nemer, who is Canada’s Chief Science Advisor, thanked the numerous scientists involved in the frontlines of Canada’s research response, including those working in the government, and across industry, non-profit and post-secondary institutions.

“This pandemic has highlighted the role of science and research like never before,” says Nemer, pointing out that it is on us – scientists – to maintain this interest and continue the dialogue.

In this post, I’ll highlight some of the key take-aways from this two-hour long panel.

Canadian vaccine efforts

A vaccine helps our body’s immune system to recognize and attack pathogens, such as the SARS-CoV-2 virus which causes COVID-19. As of 29 June 2020, the World Health Organization reported that there are a total of 149 COVID-19 candidate vaccines, where 132 and 17 candidates are in the pre-clinical and clinical stages respectively.

In her talk, Dr. Lakshmi Krishnan, who is the Director General of the National Research Council of Canada’s (NRC) Human Health Therapeutics Research Centre, highlighted how NRC researchers are aiding in vaccine efforts through collaborations and leveraging existing technologies and capacity. This includes a collaboration with VBI Vaccines to develop a vaccine impacting multiple members of the coronavirus family (including COVID-19, SARS and MERS), and working with CanSino Biologics to begin pre-clinical evaluation of their Ad5-nCoV candidate vaccine.

Dr. Volker Gerdts is the Director & CEO of the University of Saskatchewan’s Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization-International Vaccine Centre (VIDO-InterVac) – which is one of Canada’s largest containment labs. In his talk, Gerdts shared data from VIDO-InterVac’s ferret and hamster models, demonstrating that SARS-CoV-2 replicates in the upper respiratory tract, and that the pathology is consistent with pneumonia. VIDO-InterVac is also currently developing a candidate vaccine, with a proof-of-concept now ready. If all goes to plan, Gerdts hopes that VIDO-InterVac’s vaccine will be ready for the public in the summer of 2021.

Lastly, Dr. Gary Kobinger – a Canada Research Chair in Immunotherapy and Innovative Vaccine Platforms at the Université Laval – walked attendees through his lab’s candidate vaccine, where ongoing challenges include developing animal models and optimizing vaccine delivery. Importantly, Kobinger noted that this candidate is going down the non-profit route – by partnering with GuradRX, he hopes to ensure the vaccine will be available to the entire global community.

Population-wide research and impact

One example of population-wide research can be found in the Canadian COVID Genomics Network (CanCOGeN), which is generating accessible genomics data to inform public health decision-making amid COVID-19. This network was launched by the not-for-profit Genome Canada, in partnership with multiple organizations, including government public health labs, genome sequencing centres, regional Genome Centres and more. Dr. Rob Annan, who is Genome Canada’s President and CEO, shared that CanCOGeN is undertaking two key genomics projects: (1) to sequence multiple viral samples to better track outbreaks; and (2) to sequence the genomes of patients to better understand why there are such different health outcomes in this disease.

« This is one of the reasons we invest in science in the long-term, » says Annan. « This rapid response was really 20 years in the making. »

Another example is the COVID Immunity Taskforce, which is leading efforts to implement population-based studies to generate first estimates of SARS-CoV-2 immunity, and investigate the advantages and limitations of immunity testing. In her talk, taskforce co-chair Dr. Catherine Hankins shared what the group has achieved so far, including determining strategic priorities, establishing an Indigenous Advisory Circle, and launching SeroTracker, which is a dashboard that tracks and synthesizes findings from SARS-CoV-2 serosurveillance efforts worldwide.



To end this session, Dr. Carrie Bourrassa, who is the Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Indigenous Peoples’ Health, highlighted the importance of developing culturally safe resources to address COVID-19 concerns among different communities. Here, Bourrassa notes that the OCAP principles are key: ownership, control, access and possession of data. For example, Bourrassa recently partnered with the Canadian Virtual Hospice to develop a culturally safe Grief fact sheet addressing how to process grief during COVID-19.

Coordination and collaboration

With so many diverse research efforts underway, transparency is critical to co-ordinate Canada’s COVID-19 research response. Dr. Guy Rouleau – who is the Director of the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, and the 2020 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award Laureate – highlighted the role of open science in Canada’s COVID-19 research response. Here, open science refers to scientists being able to freely share data, materials, tools and findings in a timely manner.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented adoption of open science in the biomedical field,” said Rouleau, but noted that major lessons are being learned, including the need to implement mechanisms to ensure data quality and rigour in pre-prints, and to change existing institutional policies to favour open science.

Lastly, Dr. Vivek Goel, the Vice-President of Research and Innovation, and Strategic Initiatives, at the University of Toronto, walked attendees through the use of evidence in healthcare, and the different types of decision-making (traditional political decision-making, evidence-based health policy, and evidence-based medicine). « Evidence is always considered within the context of many other factors, » says Goel.

Goel also raised an important final point: given that so much money has been invested into Canada’s research response, how do we co-ordinate these different efforts effectively? There are some initiatives in progress (such as CanCOVID), but there is a potential for these to become silos too.

The panel ended with closing remarks from Dr. Michael Strong, the President of CIHR-IRSC. Strong remarked that amid of all this turmoil, the importance of science has come to the forefront, especially when it comes to decision-making.

« We need to be very, very careful that we do not let the entire research ecosystem come apart, » says Strong, referring to an earlier point raised by Goel – that how we move forward with Canada’s entire research ecosystem in these times is also critical.

A visual sketchnote summary of the event. Credit: Farah Qaiser.

By Farah Qaiser

Farah Qaiser is a graduate student at the University of Toronto, where she carries out DNA sequencing to better understand complex neurological disorders. When not in the lab, Farah enjoys writing about science and scientists for various media outlets and is one of the co-founders of the Toronto Science Policy Network.


On 20 May 2020, the Gairdner Foundation hosted a group of world-renowned experts and Canada Gairdner laureates to explore the science of coronavirus infections. This included important aspects such as the development of new vaccines and treatments, modelling pandemic outbreaks and the implementation of community-led interventions.

This panel was moderated by Dr. Janet Rossant, who is the current President and Scientific Director of the Gairdner Foundation. In this post, I’ll highlight some of the key take-aways from this two-hour long panel.

A visual sketchnote summary of the event. Credit: Farah Qaiser.

Coronavirus infections and the search for antiviral therapies

Lorne Tyrrell is the Founding Director of the University of Alberta’s Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology, and a Chair Emeritus at the Gairdner Foundation. He is both a physician and researcher, with significant contributions to hepatitis research and treatment.

In his talk, Tyrrell pointed out that there are three approaches to controlling a new virus: public health measures, antiviral therapies, and vaccines. Here, antiviral therapies refer to drugs which are used to treat viral infections, where potential candidates to treat COVID-19 include Remdesivir. This antiviral was developed by Gilead Sciences to inhibit the Ebola virus, but was instead found to negatively impact zoonotic coronaviruses in general (i.e. a disease that can be transmitted from animals to people). Tyrrell walked attendees through supporting data, where in vitro data suggests that low concentrations of Remdesivir can inhibit SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes COVID-19, after it enters cells. In addition, Tyrrell shared preliminary results from an NIH clinical trial, which suggests that hospitalized patients with COVID-19 recover 31% faster with Remdesivir than those who did not receive the antiviral.

Tyrrell pointed out that developing antivirals for new viruses take time. For example, the Hepatitis C virus was discovered in 1989, with effective antivirals introduced later in 2014. Importantly, Tyrrell emphasized that waiting for results from “prospective, randomized controlled studies” is critical before introducing any new treatments.

Developing coronavirus vaccines – a worldwide effort

Rino Rappuoli is the Chief Scientist and Head External R&D at GSK Vaccines (Italy), and received a Canada Gairdner International Award (2017) in recognition of his novel vaccine innovation: reverse vaccinology, a genomic approach to vaccine discovery resulting in the life-saving meningococcus B vaccine.

Rappuoli walked attendees through the different types of vaccines that could be developed to treat COVID-19, including RNA vaccines, viral vectors, traditional protein-based vaccines and human monoclonal antibodies. Each vaccine type has its own strengths and advantages. For example, Rappuoli pointed out that RNA vaccines can be produced very rapidly e.g. in 2013, a group of scientists prepared a vaccine against H7N9 influenza to immunise mice in just one week. However, no RNA vaccines have been approved for any diseases yet.

Regardless of what type of vaccine is developed, Rappuoli ended his talk on an important note – that global coordination will be necessary to produce and deliver this COVID-19 vaccine across the world.

Modeling coronavirus outbreaks – when will we know we can lift restrictions?

Christopher Murray is the Director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and a Professor of Global Health at the University of Washington. He received the 2018 John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award for quantifying the Global Burden of Disease (i.e. reporting annually on all major diseases by country and year).

Initially, Murray and his team at IHME developed an outbreak model, which takes into account mobility, temperature, testing per capita and population density, to help the University of Washington School of Medicine plan for the first wave of the epidemic. Since then, the model has expanded to include various countries across the world, including Canada. This modelling has also unveiled a few puzzles. For example, Murray notes that in countries like Chile, Argentina and Brazil, despite social distancing and reduced mobility, there are still growing numbers of COVID-19 cases and deaths. In contrast, there are relatively few cases in Pakistan, India and sub-Saharan Africa – have lockdowns worked in these regions?

Moving forward, Murray’s team has many next steps in mind, including extending forecasts to the end of 2020, and introducing projections for sub-Saharan Africa, India (by state), US counties and all low and middle-income countries.

Implementing community interventions in South Africa

Quarraisha and Salim Abdool Karim are the founding leaders of the Centre for the AIDS Program of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Professors at Columbia University, and Pro-Vice Chancellors at the University of KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa. They are also the 2020 John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award laureates for their discovery that antiretrovirals prevent sexual transmission of HIV.

Salim Abdool Karim walked attendees through the COVID-19 situation in South Africa, pointing out that the first case was recorded on 5th March 2020, with a lockdown introduced in late March. The primary goal of this response was to ‘flatten the curve’ i.e. to help health services cope with the COVID-19 case load.


In order to avoid exceeding the capacity of a country’s healthcare system, flattening the curve is critical. Credit: Toby Morris and Siouxsie Wiles.

How else did South Africa flatten the curve? Salim Abdool Karim noted that a variety of public health measures that were introduced, including symptom screening, the use of personal protective equipment and increased testing. Importantly, Quarraisha Abdool Karim pointed out that involving local community-based organizations was key in implementing these interventions. With local support, South Africa was able to mobilize the community and have ‘buy-in’ to facilitate home visits, screening and self-quarantine measures.

What brings hope in these uncertain times?

Each panelist cited different reasons for what brings them hope amid COVID-19, ranging from the inspiring level of global collaboration among scientists, the transformation in vaccine development, to how the COVID-19 response has included measures for those disproportionately impacted by the pandemic.

Personally, Murray’s answer resounded with me the most: today, politicians of all stripes are asking for constant input from the scientific community to inform decision-making, and that this prominence of science in everyday discourse offers hope for the future.

Celebrating 60 Years of Gairdner

Through the decades 1960s
Jacques F.A.P. Miller MB BS PHD DSC
Canada Gairdner International Award 1966
In recognition of his fundamental contributions to our understanding of the role of the thymus in the development of normal immunological mechanisms in early life, and in their maintenance in the adult, and for the stimulus which his studies of the thymus gave to the rapidly developing field of immunobiology.
Melbourne, Australia


Through the decades 1970s
David Baltimore BA PHD
Canada Gairdner International Award 1974
For innovative and significant research on the mechanism of action of viruses in relation to tumor production.
Cambridge, MA, USA


Through the decades 1980s
Canada Gairdner International Award 1989
For contributions to the cloning and sequencing of the gene for the T-cell receptor.
Toronto, ON, Canada


Through the decades 2000s
Nubia Muñoz MD MPH
John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award 2009
For her epidemiological studies that defined the essential role of the human papilloma virus in the etiology of cervical cancer on a global level which led to the development of successful prophylactic vaccines.
Visiting Scientist, Catalan Institute of Oncology, Barcelona, Spain; Emeritus Professor, National Cancer Institute, Bogota, Colombia


Through the decades 2010s
Huda Y Zoghbi MD
Canada Gairdner International Award 2017
For the discovery of the genetic basis of Rett syndrome and its implications for autism spectrum disorders
Professor, Baylor College of Medicine; Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute; Director, Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute, Texas Children’s Hospital, Houston, TX, USA


On September 30, 2019, the Gairdner Foundation and L’Oréal-UNESCO welcomed members of the scientific community in Toronto to a Forum on Diversity and Excellence in Science. Programming included interactive discussions and panels on diversity and inclusivity, addressing barriers to success and opportunities to enhance support networks.

You will find the main takeaways from the discussion in the event report below:

We invite you to view and download real-time graphic recordings of the sessions, captured by Annalee Kornelsen of Drawing Change:

Check out event photos on our Flickr account.

The Gairdner Foundation partnered with CSMB and the Michael Smith Laboratories at UBC to produce a series of documents celebrating the science of a selection of this year’s Canada Gairdner Awardees.

We invite you to view and share these documents widely, as they highlight the impact science has in our lives and our understanding of the world.

Our thanks to the students and artists who made these articles possible. If you are a teacher and you’d like more materials like this for your students please contact Sommer Wedlock at sommer@gairdner.org

For more information about the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences, please visit https://csmb-scbm.ca/

For more information about the UBC Michael Smith Laboratories, please visit https://www.msl.ubc.ca/



DNA Replication



The Gairdner Foundation will be joining a line-up of extraordinary speakers and organizers in Kigali, Rwanda this November for the 3rd Annual Women Leaders in Global Health Conference.

Having attended last year’s London, UK Conference hosted by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, the Gairdner Foundation is now joining as a silver sponsor for the first major WLGH event in the Global South.   Global health is a significant part of the Gairdner Mission and we celebrate this opportunity to encourage and support all members of the community in the pursuit of excellence.

« The Gairdner Foundation is delighted to partner with  the WLGH 2019 Conference in recognizing, convening and celebrating women leaders in global health. The John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award is a world leading prize for scientists making significant impacts in global health. We are committed to increased equity, diversity and inclusion in all our activities and look forward to ongoing alignment between the missions of WLGH and the Foundation.  Together we can help open opportunities for all individuals and communities to contribute to the health of humanity. » – Dr. Janet Rossant, President & Scientific Director, Gairdner Foundation

We encourage all those involved in the Global Health Community to attend and to take advantage in this exceptional opportunity.  Follow the conference at https://www.wlghconferences.org/ for updates on confirmed speakers, programing developments and opportunities for attendees and sponsors.

Watch @WLGH19 & @ughe_org for all the latest and spread the word on social media and in your networks with:
#WLGH19 #GenderEquity #InvestInWomen #WomenLeaders #GlobalHealth #Rwanda #HealthEquity

Read the Press Release from WLGH and UGHE HERE

April 9, 2019

By Dr. John Dirks, President Emeritus, The Gairdner Foundation

The Gairdner Foundation sadly marks the death of Dr. Sydney Brenner on April 5, 2019  in Singapore. Sydney Brenner was recognized by many as the most influential molecular biologist of our time.

Born in South Africa, Brenner entered the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg at age 15, and pursued a PhD in physical chemistry at Oxford in the early 1950s. In April 1953, a carload of graduate students including Brenner drove to Cambridge to see the Crick-Watson model of DNA, and inspired by this transformative moment, Brenner embarked on a career in the new discipline of molecular biology. In 1957, he joined the Cambridge Cavendish Lab with Francis Crick, contributing to the elucidation  of the  genetic code and the codon, and then while working with François Jacob and Matthew Meselson, to the discovery of messenger RNA, essential in the synthesis of proteins. For these works he received his first Gairdner International Award in 1978.

From the 1980s on, Brenner focused on developmental and genetic biology, establishing the worm C. elegans as a highly successful tool for studying development with exact understanding of the genetics, the nervous system and the cellular turnover in a single species. With John Sulston, he received his second Gairdner International Award in1991. In 2002, Sydney Brenner was awarded the Nobel Prize with John Sulston and Robert Horvitz.

Dr. Brenner was the Guest of Honor at the Gairdner Gala marking the 2002 Gairdner Genome Year. He joined the Gairdner Medical Advisory Committee in 2003, serving for two full terms. During this time Brenner contributed hugely to the annual selection process through his exceedingly broad knowledge of biomedical science.

Sydney Brenner was a charismatic, eloquent speaker and visited some 15 Canadian universities for Gairdner. He spoke precisely and with few, if any, slides. Audiences remained riveted regardless of the length of his presentations, and Sydney also enjoying interspersing his wicked sense of humor. On the occasion of Gairdner and other meetings, my dinners with Sydney and his interesting repartee are remembered fondly by all in attendance. Sydney Brenner was a great friend of the Canada Gairdners and the major thinker in molecular biology in the last 75 years. He will be greatly missed but in the history of biology his impact will remain for all time.