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27.03.18 Azim Surani to receive coveted Canada Gairdner International Award for discovery of genomic imprinting

last modified Apr 03, 2018 02:17 PM
Azim Surani of the Gurdon Institute and Davor Solter of the Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics will receive Canada's top research award from the Gairdner Foundation in recognition of their work establishing the field of epigenetics with the discovery of genomic imprinting
27.03.18 Azim Surani to receive coveted Canada Gairdner International Award for discovery of genomic imprinting

Azim Surani in his lab at the Gurdon Institute. Photo by brandAnonymous.

Azim Surani, Director of Germline and Epigenetics Research at the Wellcome Trust/ Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute is named today as a recipient of the 2018 Canada Gairdner International Award, which recognises seminal discoveries or contributions to biomedical science.

Surani is awarded jointly with Davor Solter (Max Planck Institute of Immunobiology and Epigenetics), “for their discovery of mammalian genomic imprinting that causes parent-of-origin specific gene expression and its consequences for development and disease”.

Together, the work of Solter and Surani contributed to the understanding of the developmental consequences and molecular mechanisms of genomic imprinting. In 1984, they released parallel studies demonstrating the concept that chromosomes retained a 'memory' of their parental origin, and Surani coined the term 'imprinting' to describe this.

All cells in the animal contain two copies of every autosomal gene, one from the mother and one from the father, and in most cases both copies are expressed. However, 'imprinted' genes are expressed only from either the maternally or the paternally inherited copy. Genomic imprinting has widespread roles in mammals, affecting embryonic and placental development and transmission of nutrients to the fetus, and regulating critical aspects of mammalian physiology, such as metabolism, neuronal development and adult behaviour.

Faulty imprints can lead to developmental, physiological and behavioural anomalies in mice, and result in diseases in humans. There is growing evidence for the importance of imprinting in disease susceptibility from developmental syndromes likBeckwith-Wiedemann, Angelman and Prader-Willi, to a variety of cancers and neurological disorders and obesity. It also has effects on diverse  aspects of mammalian development and physiology, such as stem cells, core body temperature, nutrition and behaviour.

Their work is one of the key discoveries that started the field of epigenetics, the study of heritable changes in gene function without changes in the DNA sequence.

Surani said: "I am very pleased that the discovery of genomic imprinting and its significance has been recognised in the long term. I send my thanks to all my colleagues who believed in it and worked hard to advance the field”.  

Several Gairdner Awards are made annually.

The 2018 Canada Gairdner International Award "for the discovery of light-gated ion channel mechanisms, and for the discovery of optogenetics, a technology that has revolutionized neuroscience" is awarded to Peter Hegemann (Humboldt­ Universität zu Berlin), Karl Deisseroth (Stanford University and Howard Hughes Medical Institute) and Edward S. Boyden (Media Lab and McGovern Institute, MIT).

The 2018 John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award goes to Alan D. Lopez (University of Melbourne) and Christopher J.L. Murray (University of Washington), for "their ground-breaking  work in conceptualizing and quantifying the Global Burden of Disease”.

The 2018 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award is for Frances A. Shepherd (University of Toronto), "for her global leadership in oncology which has contributed significantly to improving survival outcomes of lung cancer patients worldwide".

Laureates receive a $100,000 cash honoriarium and are formally presented with their awards on October 25, 2018 at the annual Canada Gairdner Awards Gala in Toronto.

"Each of the 2018 Canada Gairdner Award laureates will participate in a pan Canadian outreach program to share their research with graduate students, trainees, post­ docs, faculty members and high school students," said Dr. Janet Rossant, President & Scientific Director, Gairdner Foundation.

Since 1959 when the first awards were granted, 373 scientists have received a Canada Gairdner Award, and 87 to date have gone on the receive the Nobel Prize.


Read the full press release on the Gairdner Foundation website.

Article in Toronto's Globe and Mail online newspaper: "How this year’s Gairdner winners are lighting up the brain and deciphering the marks on our genes".

Read more about research in the Surani lab.

More biographical details on Azim Surani on the Wellcome website.

Studying development to understand disease

The Gurdon Institute is funded by Wellcome and Cancer Research UK to study the biology of development, and how normal growth and maintenance go wrong in cancer and other diseases.

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