The Gairdner Foundation in partnership with FRQ-S have an established fund for the promotion of science culture and achievement in the province of Quebec. We are issuing an open call to all scientific organizations, research institutions and universities in the fields of human biology and medicine for events 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 online engagement and will also provide in-kind communications 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 three streams that can be applied to:

Talent Development Stream (Up to $5,000)
Programs that reach out to high school and undergraduate students to inspire the next generation of scientists and innovators. Potential programs could include competitions, guest speakers or student conferences.

Celebrating Excellence Stream  (Up to $25,000)
Programs that focus on recent scientific advances and bring extraordinary international science to Quebec, while highlighting the excellence of Quebec researchers. Potential programs would largely be stand-alone scientific symposia on a current and growing area of human biology and medicine. We encourage the inclusion of public and student engagement at these events as well.

Public Engagement Stream (Up to $15,000)
Programs that bring extraordinary science into the public discourse and interest, targeting a lay audience and a range of possible stakeholders. Potential programs could include public lectures, town hall events and panel discussions.

Application Process
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 will be divided among selected proposals at the discretion of the Gairdner Foundation.

Minimum funding requests should be at the $2,500 level to ensure proposals that are 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.

Applications are accepted on a rolling basis between September 1, 2020 and September 1, 2021 We require that all proposals be submitted no less than 12 weeks prior to the proposed event date. 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 Quebec research environments.

In striving to award scientific excellence and to inspire those who follow, Gairdner embraces diverse perspectives in research. Throughout all 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.

Contact Sarah Devonshire for any inquiries at 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.