Gairdner Foundation Announces 2018 Awards for Advances in Genomic Imprinting, Other Fields

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by Alice Melão |

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Gairdner International award

The Gairdner Foundation recently announced the 2018 Canada Gairdner awardees for $100,000 prizes that recognize important research and biomedical discoveries. Among the five laureates are Davor Solter and Azim Surani for their discovery of parent-inherited genomic imprinting, a mechanism that regulates gene activity and can induce diseases such as Prader-Willi syndrome.

Solter, MD, PhD, is an emeritus member and director of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics and a visiting professor at the Siriraj Center for Excellence in Stem Cell Research at Mahidol University and the University of Zagreb Medical School.

Surani, PhD, is director of germline and epigenetics research at the Wellcome Trust Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, and Marshall-Walton Professor at the University of Cambridge.

In 1984, the two researchers reported in parallel studies the discovery of genomic imprinting. All cells have two copies of each gene, one inherited from the mother and one from the father. Commonly, both copies are read by the cell’s mechanisms, and cells have a “backup plan” if one version is incorrect. However, with “imprinted” genes, only the version that is not silenced will be available.

This molecular mechanism has been found to be important in disease susceptibility. Since its discovery, several studies have identified genes affected by imprinting mechanisms. For instance, genomic imprinting has been found to be a key contributor to triggering developmental disorders such as Beckwith-Wiedemann, Angelman, and Prader-Willi syndromes, but also a variety of cancers, neurological and behavioral disorders, and obesity.

The work of both Solter and Surani is one of the key discoveries that initiated the field of epigenetics, the study of changes in gene activity without changing the DNA sequence.

“Each year the Gairdner Foundation recognizes the best and brightest researchers from around the world and 2018 is no exception,” Lorne Tyrrell, MD, PhD, chair of the Gairdner Foundation’s board of directors, said in a press release.

“Gairdner is proud to recognize our 2018 laureates for their cutting-edge research and to be raising the caliber of scientific conversation in Canada through access to leading international researchers,” added Janet Rossant, PhD, the Gairdner Foundation’s president and scientific director.

The winners will be formally presented with their awards at the annual Canada Gairdner Awards Gala on Oct. 25 in Toronto. They also will participate in a pan-Canadian outreach program to share their research with the community, including with graduate students, trainees, postdocs, faculty members, and high school students.

Since its creation in 1959, the Canada Gairdner International Award has recognized the accomplishments of 373 scientists from 35 countries. Each year, the award is given to five individuals for outstanding biomedical research that has had a major impact on scientific progress and on human health.