The news last week that Dr. Janet Rossant had won the 2015 Gairdner Wightman Award should have come as no big surprise. The head of research at SickKids Hospital in Toronto, Dr. Rossant perfectly fits the profile of the Wightman winner: a scientist who has demonstrated outstanding national leadership in medicine and medical science.
However, the announcement did give us another reason to celebrate: it brought the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Gairdner Award connections to four — so far.
Dr. Rossant (1) who chairs our Foundation’s Science Leadership Council, has led the way in crafting Canada’s public policy regarding stem cell research and is the immediate Past President of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. She also is an articulate advocate for the Canadian Stem Cell Strategy & Action that sets out how Canada can lead the way to deliver five to 10 new stem cell therapies to the clinic within 10 years. (See the Globe & Mail piece she co-authored here).
With the announcement, Dr. Rossant joins Dr. Alan Bernstein (2), Chair of our Board of Directors, as a fellow Gairdner Wightman winner. Dr. Bernstein, now President & CEO of the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research, won the Wightman in 2008 for his “outstanding contribution to Canadian health research as a scientist, research institute director and as the inaugural President of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.”
Dr. Bernstein’s stem cell connection goes all the way back to his PhD studies with Dr. Jim Till, co-discoverer of stem cells (with Dr. Ernest McCulloch) in the late 1960s/early 1970s at the Ontario Cancer Institute (OCI). Dr. Till mentored Dr. Bernstein in much the same way that Dr. Bernstein encouraged Dr. Rossant when she came to work at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute (now the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute) at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital in 1985.
Dr. Till (3) is a Gairdner International Award winner, having picked up the prize with Dr. McCulloch back in 1969. His connection to the Foundation? He was original member of the Board of Directors when the Foundation began life in 2006 and has been a trusted advisor ever since. In fact, his “Spleen Team” jersey, from when he led the OCI squad that unveiled the mysteries of hematopoietic stem cells, hangs in a place of honour in the Foundation’s office in Ottawa.
Then there is Dr. Samuel Weiss (4), who won his Canada Gairdner International Award in 2008 in large part for his 1992 discovery of neural stem cells in the brains of adult mammals, which sparked new approaches for brain cell replacement and repair. Dr. Weiss, who leads the Hotchkiss Brain Institute at the University of Calgary, preceded Dr. Rossant as Chair of our Science Leadership Council and was also a member of the Foundation’s Board.
Quite honestly, we’re proud to be associated with these outstanding scientists. That they have chosen to help us as we advocate for the advancement of stem cell research and development to deliver safe, new and effective treatments for an array of diseases is truly inspiring. And we look forward to finding out who will be (5).