An Award-Winning Legacy of Innovation

The Gairdner Awards are Canada's most prestigious awards in biomedical research. But just what does it mean to win one?

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As the 2019 Gairdner Award winners prepare to go on their lecture tour, we’ve got word from some of last year’s laureates about the significance and impact of Canada’s most prestigious award in biomedical research.

“Approximately a quarter of the individuals who have won Gairdner Awards have gone on to win Nobel Prizes,” says medical oncologist Frances Shepherd. “So that just speaks to the quality of these awards, and the prestige of these awards.”

“The Gairdner Award is just extremely useful in terms of its reputational capital,” adds health economist Alan Lopez. “To receive that award, you’re already regarded by your peers, you’re regarded by communities you work in who know about that award, as having achieved a level of excellence.”

The pride behind winning a Gairdner Award goes beyond personal accomplishment. It’s a nod to everyone in the field working together towards common goals.

“It was really meaningful to me because it was recognition of my field of biophysics,” says biophysicist Lewis Kay. “I’m kind of representative of many people in that regard.”

But what makes the Gairdner Awards even more special is that they bring world-class research to the public. The laureates all tour to give lectures not only to fellow scientists, but also to high school students to spark their early interest in science.

“Science used to be part of culture, part of society. You know, landing on the moon, these kinds of things captured global attention,” says Boyden.

“I worry that science is not part of society anymore. So part of the outreach program is to capture the imagination of people when they’re young. To help people understand where the big innovations come from.”

“I think that outreach around science, particularly the science around global health, is a pretty unique opportunity through the Gairdner to reach out to those groups,” adds physician and health economist Christopher Murray.

Laureates also receive a no-strings-attached monetary award that they can use for anything, including more research. But some decide to use it to enhance their communities.

“I have decided to use this to endow an award for a young woman who is going on to university in science,” says Shepherd.

“With the other half of the award, I’m going to establish an endowment for the Canadian Clinical Trials group to spread the word about the fabulous clinical research that is done by the Canadian Clinical Trials group. So this award will endure, and a legacy will be left behind.”

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