Girish Mahajan (Editor)

Gairdner Foundation

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American Academy of Arts an, American Philosophical Society, Rockefeller University, Howard Hughes Medical I, National Academy of Sciences


The Gairdner Foundation is a non-profit organization devoted to the recognition of outstanding achievement in biomedical research worldwide. It was created in 1957 by James Arthur Gairdner to recognize and reward the achievements of medical researchers whose work contributes significantly to improving the quality of human life. Since the first awards were made in 1959, the Gairdner Awards have become Canada's most prestigious medical award recognizing and celebrating the research of the world’s best and brightest biomedical researchers.


Since 1959, more than 320 Canada Gairdner International Awards have been given to scientists from 15 countries; of these recipients, 84 have subsequently won the Nobel Prize in medicine. Each year, Gairdner honors seven awardees in three different categories: Canada Gairdner International Awards (five laureates per year), Canada Gairdner Wightman Award (one laureate per year) and the John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award (one laureate per year).

Laureates are announced every March and this is followed by receptions in each of their home cities to celebrate alongside their colleagues and family. In October current and past awardees visit Canada to speak with students and faculty at more than 20 universities across the country. The Gairdner Foundation strives to inspire the next generation of students to consider a career in the health sciences.

The Canada Gairdner Awards are supported by the governments of Canada, Alberta and Ontario.

In February 2008 the Federal Government announced a $20 million allocation to the Gairdner Foundation to increase the prizes to $100,000 each, and institute a new individual prize in Global Health. Commencing in 2009, the Awards have been renamed the Canada Gairdner International Awards.

Establishing the Foundation, Jim Gairdner

J. A. Gairdner (known as Big Jim to his grandchildren) was, indeed, a larger than life figure. Described by his friends as a talented maverick and visionary, he was a colourful personality who lived large. He was, by turns, an athlete, a soldier, a stockbroker, a businessman, a philanthropist and a landscape painter. (When he died, he left his house to the town of Oakville as an art gallery.) While he had always had an interest in medicine, it was the onset of severe arthritis in his early 50s that led Gairdner to become involved with the newly created Canadian Arthritis and Rheumatism Society. In 1957 he donated $500,000 to establish a foundation to recognize major research contributions in the conquest of disease and human suffering. This was to be his most lasting legacy.

Gairdner’s decision to create awards that recognize outstanding discoveries by the world’s top scientists was, and continues to be, an act of extraordinary vision. Much of his original instruction regarding the process of selection and awarding of the prizes remains in place today, contributing to the current stature of the Canada Gairdner Awards.


The Canada Gairdner International Awards are given annually to individuals from a diversity of fields for outstanding discoveries or contributions to medical science.

The John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award recognizes those who have made scientific advances in one of four areas: basic science, clinical science or population or environmental health. The advances must have made, or have the potential to make a significant impact on health in the developing world.

The Canada Gairdner Wightman Award is given to a Canadian who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science.

Board of directors

A 14-member Board of Directors consisting of 2 members of the Gairdner family and 9 leading figures in Canadian business and scientific life oversee the work of the Foundation. The Directors provide logistical support to the Medical Review Panel and the Medical Advisory Board, and are also engaged in fundraising for the Foundation and planning for its future growth.

  • Lorne Tyrrell, (Chair), Edmonton, AB
  • Heather Munroe-Blum, (Vice-Chair), Montreal, QC
  • Bren L. Gairdner, Spruce View, AB
  • Gary Goldberg, Toronto, ON
  • Cal Stiller, London, ON
  • John Risley, Chester, NS
  • Darren Entwistle, Vancouver, BC
  • Brandt C. Louie, Vancouver, BC
  • John Upton, Vancouver, BC
  • Michael Horgan, Ottawa, ON
  • Victor Dzau, North Carolina, USA
  • Ann McCaig, Calgary, AB
  • Eric Newell, Edmonton, AB
  • Melissa Todd, Waterloo, ON
  • John H. Dirks, M. D., Toronto, ON- President & Scientific Director (ex officio)
  • Awards Adjudication Committees

    The Gairdner reputation rests squarely on the outstanding quality of its adjudication process.

    The model for adjudication that James Gairdner outlined in 1959 remains essentially intact. However, under the guidance of President & Scientific Director John Dirks, it has become significantly more international in scope.

    The nominations for the Canada Gairdner International Awards go through a two-stage adjudication process. The first assessment is done by The Medical Review Panel (MRP), a group of 30 leading scientists from across Canada. They select a short list of approximately 20 candidates, which is given to The Medical Advisory Board (MAB), composed of 25 Canadian and international scientists (seven of whom have won a Nobel Prize). The MAB selects the winners by secret ballot.

    The Canada Gairdner Global Health Award was initiated in 2009 – when Gairdner received a $20 million allocation from the Government of Canada – and it quickly became the most important award in the field. The winners are selected by the Global Health Advisory Committee, a group of 15 international scientists.

    The Canada Gairdner Wightman Award recipient is selected by the Wightman Committee, a group of 15 recognized leaders in Canadian medicine.

    Medical Advisory Board

    The Medical Advisory Board (MAB) comprises a group of scientists from across Canada, the United States, Europe, Asia and Australia. Each January, the MAB meets in Toronto to review the nominations submitted by the Medical Review Panel. After an in depth study and lengthy discussion of each nominee, comparing their work with others in their respective field, secret ballots are cast and the five or six annual winners chosen.

    The members of the Medical Advisory Board are:

  • John H. Dirks, M.D. (Chair) The Gairdner Foundation, Toronto, ON
  • Alain Beaudet, M.D., Ph.D., Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Ottawa, ON
  • John Bell, D.M. F.R.C.P. Oxford University, UK
  • Elizabeth Blackburn, Ph.D. University of California, San Francisco, USA
  • Sydney Brenner, D.Phil. F.R.S. The Salk Institute, San Diego, CA, USA
  • Linda B. Buck, Ph.D. Howard Hughes Medical Institute, Seattle, WA, USA
  • John R. G. Challis, D.Sc., Ph.D., F.R.S.C. University of Toronto, Toronto, ON
  • David Colman, Ph.D. Montreal Neurological Institute, Montreal, QC
  • Suzanne Cory, Ph.D., Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, Parkville, Australia
  • Victor Dzau, M.D. Duke Hospital South, Durham, NC, USA
  • Jeffrey Flier, M.D. Harvard University, Boston, MA, USA
  • Cyril B. Frank, M.D. University of Calgary, Calgary, AB
  • Jack Gauldie, Ph.D. (Co-Chair, MRP) McMaster University, Hamilton, ON
  • Michael Hayden, PhD. University of British Columbia, Vancouver, BC
  • F. Ulrich Hartl, Professor M.D. Max-Planck-Institut, Munich, Germany
  • Robert Horvitz, Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, USA
  • Philip A. Marsden, M.D. (Co-Chair MRP)
  • Roderick McInnes, Ph.D. University of Toronto, Toronto, ON
  • Benjamin Neel, M.D., Ph.D., Ontario Cancer Institute, Toronto, ON
  • Ronald E. Pearlman, Ph.D. York University, Toronto, ON
  • Richard Rachubinski, Ph.D., University of Alberta, AB
  • Robert Roberts, M.D., FRCP(C), MACC, Ottawa, ON
  • Guy Rouleau, M.D., PhD. Université de Montréal
  • Phillip A. Sharp, Ph.D. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston, MA, USA
  • J. G. P. Sissons, M.D., F.R.C.P., F.R.C. Path., University of Cambridge, Cambridge, UK
  • Ralph M. Steinman, M.D. Rockefeller University, New York, NY, USA
  • Lap-Chee Tsui, Ph.D. F.R.S. F.R.S.C. University of Hong Kong, Hong Kong
  • Michael Tyers, Ph.D. University of Edinburgh, UK
  • Medical Review Panel

    The Medical Review Panel (MRP) is composed of a group of leading scientists from across Canada who provide a "first screening" of the nominations for the Gairdner Awards, submitting their long and short list to the Medical Advisory Board. The members of the Medical Review Panel are:

    Dr. John Dirks, President and Scientific Director Dr. Philip Marsden, (Co-Chair, MRP), Toronto, ON Dr. Paul Kubes, (Co-Chair, MRP), Calgary, AB Dr. Ron Pearlman, Scientific Director, the Gairdner Foundation Dr. John Aitchison, Seattle, Washington Dr. David Andrews, Toronto, ON Dr. Samuel Aparicio, Vancouver, BC Dr. Barbara J, Ballermann, Edmonton, AB Dr. Steffany A. L. Bennett, Ottawa, ON Dr. Jaques Cote, Québec, QC Dr. Yves De Koninck, Québec, QC Dr. Daniel Durocher, Toronto, ON Dr. John Gorden, Saskatoon, SK Dr. Richard B. Hawkes, Calgary, AG Dr. Geoff Hicks, Winnipeg, Manitoba Dr. Jean-Pierre Julien, Québec, QC Dr. David Kelvin, Toronto, ON Dr. Dale W. Laird, London, ON Dr. David Lillicrap, Kingston, ON Dr. Jonathan Lytton, Calgary, AB Dr. (Quim) Madrenas, Montreal, QC Dr. Heidi McBride, Montreal, QC Dr. Pamela O’Hashi, Toronto, ON Dr. Adrian Owen, London, ON Dr. Molly S. Shoichet, Toronto, ON Dr. Michel Tremblay, Montreal, QC Dr. Jeffrey Weitz, Hamilton, ON Dr. Raymund Wellinger, Sherbrooke, QC Dr. Terry-Lynn Young, St. Johns, NL Dr. Mei Zhen, University of Toronto Dr. Olga Kovalchuk, Lethbridge, AB Dr. Mark Glover, Edmonton, AB Dr. Lea Harrington, Montreal, QC Dr. Robert A. Hegele, London, ON Dr. Olga Kovalchuk, Lethbridge, AB Dr. Andras Nagy, Toronto, ON Dr. Michael William Salter, Toronto, ON

    The MRP and the MAB change every year so this must be updated annually.

    Student Outreach Program

    The Gairdner National Program sees current and past awardees fan out across the country to speak to medical and science faculty at 18-22 universities from St John's to Vancouver. Since 2001 they have also given lectures to selected senior high school and CEGEP students. During the lecture, which is 15 to 20 minutes long, the scientist is asked to address two questions: How did I get into the field? What is the question I have been working on? The lecture is followed by a question period, which is invariably lively.

    The aims of the high school lectures are to encourage these students to consider entering science programs and perhaps eventually undertake careers in either science or medicine. This year lectures took place in Charlottetown, Kingston, Toronto (at York and University of Toronto), Ottawa, Montreal, Waterloo, London, Guelph, Winnipeg, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. At several universities these lectures have become part of the overall student recruitment program.

    Students are selected by their schools and an individual at each university coordinates the event. This year we reached over 3500 high school/CEGEP students.

    One of the somewhat unexpected results of the senior high school program has been the pleasure that nearly every scientist has expressed at being given the opportunity to speak to a younger audience.

    2010 Gairdner National Program

    Each October, as part of the Gairdner's mandate to communicate the work of medical researchers to others, the most recent Canada Gairdner awardees, along with awardees from years past, visit universities across Canada to provide academic lectures on their area of expertise

    [1] 2010 Gairdner National Program schedule

  • Dalhousie University, NS
  • Memorial University, NL
  • University of PEI, PEI
  • University of Montreal, QC
  • Thunder Bay Regional Research Institute, TB
  • McGill University, QC
  • London, ON
  • University of Laval, QC
  • Vancouver, BC
  • Calgary, AB
  • Waterloo, ON
  • Kingston, ON
  • Winnipeg, MB
  • Edmonton, AB
  • Hamilton, ON
  • References

    Gairdner Foundation Wikipedia