Dr. Gelareh Zadeh has received one of two inaugural Canada Gairdner Momentum Awards. (Photo: UHN's StRIDe team)

The recipients of the 2023 Gairdner Awards – Canada's most prestigious medical awards – have been announced. Among the awardees is UHN's Dr. Gelareh Zadeh, who received one of two inaugural Canada Gairdner Momentum Awards.

The Momentum Awards were established to recognize mid-career researchers who have, over the past six years, made significant discoveries that have the potential to improve human health.

Dr. Zadeh is being recognized for her seminal contributions to improving our understanding of brain tumours. Her work has led to a new molecular classification of one of the most common types of brain tumours – an advancement that has the potential to lead to more effective treatments, models for predicting patient outcomes and biomarkers of treatment response.

Dr. Zadeh's research program integrates molecular, genomic and epigenomic techniques, together with experimental models of brain tumours, to accelerate translational research in neuro-oncology. Her work has transformed our understanding of the biology and, consequently, the management of a number of different brain tumour types –​ especially meningiomas, which are the most common form of brain tumour. This work has led to a paradigm shift in the classification, predictive modelling and clinical management of these tumours.

Dr. Zadeh has also spearheaded international efforts to define the genomic landscape of neuronal tumours that have not been the focus of significant biological research, including schwannomas, peripheral nerve tumours and malignant peripheral nerve sheath tumours. These efforts have revealed novel fusion proteins and resulted in the molecular sub-classification of schwannomas. Additionally, her team has identified two biological pathways that drive the progression of benign peripheral nerve tumours toward malignant sarcomas. These molecular pathways not only provide a better biological understanding of tumour transformation, but also provide targets that could be used to develop therapeutic strategies, including the repurposing of existing pharmaceuticals.

She has also, in collaboration with researchers at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, advanced the development of blood-based biomarkers that can be used to diagnose and discriminate different brain tumour types, and potentially to track response to therapy and early recurrence of disease.

Dr. Zadeh balances her clinical duties as the Head of Neurosurgery at Toronto Western Hospital with her leadership responsibilities as Chair of Neurosurgery at the University of Toronto (U of T) and Co-Director of the Krembil Brain Institute. She also leads a highly accomplished, peer-review funded, 30-member research team at the Princess Margaret, where she is a Senior Scientist.

The Gairdner Momentum Award comes with a $50,000 prize and will be presented to Dr. Zadeh during Gairdner Science Week in October 2023.

Dr. Zadeh's accomplishments have been recognized through being named the Dan Family Chair in the Division of Neurosurgery at U of T – one of the world's largest neurosurgical programs – making her the first woman in Canada to be named neurosurgery chair.

Dr. Zadeh's other prestigious honours include the William E. Rawls Prize from the Canadian Cancer Society, the Top 25 Women of Influence Award, and the Ab Guha Award jointly awarded by the Society of Neuro-Oncology and American Association of Neurological Surgeons.

Dr. Zadeh is also the immediate past-President of the Society of Neuro-Oncology, which is a leading international society for brain tumour research and education. She is the current Editor-in-Chief of the open-access journal Neuro-Oncology Advances.

"It is such an honour to receive this award from the Gairdner Foundation," says Dr. Zadeh. "I attribute my success in large part to the highly skilled and integrated research and clinical teams that I work with at UHN.

"My team's achievements in translational brain research simply would not be possible without the exceptional researchers, trainees, neuro-oncologists, surgical teams and patients that we work with every day. I hope the recognition of the work that I have done extends in impact beyond me."

Congratulations to Dr. Zadeh on this momentous achievement!

Dr. Tak Mak, Senior Scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, has received the 2023 International Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer Research (Photo: UHN's StRIDe team)

Congratulations to Dr. Tak Mak for receiving the 2023 International Award for Extraordinary Achievement in Cancer Research from the Pezcoller Foundation and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR).

The award was established in 1997 to recognize researchers who have made significant breakthroughs in basic or translational cancer research. Dr. Mak received the award for leading the group that cloned the human T-cell receptor beta chain.

A leading expert in cancer immunology and biology, Dr. Mak is a Senior Scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and a professor in the Department of Immunology at the University of Toronto. One of his most significant contributions was the cloning of human T cell receptor genes. This achievement enabled researchers to understand the biology of T cells, and ultimately paved the way for existing immunotherapies including CAR-T therapy and TCR-T therapy.

Dr. Mak's research has also shed light on CTLA-4 – a molecule found to prevent T cells from killing cancer cells. This seminal work laid the foundation for CLTA-4 to become the first immune checkpoint regulator targeted in the clinic.

Dr. Mak's lab is currently designing T cell receptors that can recognize specific molecules on cancer cells and help to target them for destruction.

Louise Aspin, Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer at UHN Foundation, is among the Top 25 Women of Influence Recipient (Photo: Women of Influence)

Congratulations to Louise Aspin, Senior Vice President and Chief Development Officer of UHN Foundation for being named one of this year's Top 25 Women of Influence.

Louise has continually raised the fundraising bar for herself and others at UHN Foundation to help build one of the top three hospital foundations in Canada. In 2022, she led her team to raise $156 million for UHN to tackle some of the most significant health care challenges in Canada and around the world.

The Top 25 Women of Influence awards program is an annual celebration of Canada's most accomplished women role models. The recipients of this awards represent a variety of sectors, career stages, and contributions to women's advancement.

The Top 25 is designed as a celebration rather than a ranking and is open to nominations from across Canada and the United States. All awardees will be celebrated at a luncheon being held on April 4.

This success does not happen alone, and Louise would be the first person to acknowledge the incredible work of UHN Foundation's Board of Directors and staff in helping UHN and Toronto General Hospital maintain its status as a top five hospitals in the world.

Dr. Herbert Gaisano, Senior Scientist at Toronto General Hospital Research Institute (TGHRI), and a team of researchers has received $3.5 million in funding to focus on new research (Photo: UHN)

Congratulations to Dr. Herbert Gaisano, Senior Scientist at Toronto General Hospital Research Institute (TGHRI), and a team of researchers from across the country has received $3.5 million in funding from JDFR Canada and Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) to focus on new exciting research on the immune pathophysiology of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and type-1 diabetes.

Dr. Gaisano's research has long focused on elucidating the mechanisms underlying pancreatic islet pathobiology in type-2 diabetes (T2D) and pancreatitis, for which he had been recognized with an Order of Ontario and supported by a Canada Reseach Chair in Diseases of the Endocrine and Exocrine Pancreas.

Dr. Gaisano has recently redirected his interest to two new areas — non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) and type-1 diabetes (T1D) islet immune pathophysiology, where he uses freshly prepared tissue slices of liver (from obese patients undergoing bariatric surgery) and pancreas (from deceased type-1 diabetes patient donors), respectively. These new areas have just been funded by three new grants from CIHR and Diabetes Canada, and a team grant from JDRF/CIHR.

The goal of precision medicine is to get the right treatment to the right person at the right time. With this funding, Dr. Gaisano and his team will understand the variability in beta cell loss amongst individuals with T1D, which will inform development of disease-modifying therapies and cell therapies for T1D.

(L to R), Maria Tassone, Belinda Vilhena and Mandy Lowe have received the University of Toronto Temerty Faculty of Medicine 2021-2022 Ivan Silver Innovation Award for the Collaborative Change Leadership (CCL) Program.

Congratulations to Mandy Lowe, Senior Director of Clinical Education at UHN, Maria Tassone, Executive Director at The Michener Institute of Education at UHN, and Belinda Vilhena, Director, Operations & Business Development at the Centre for Advancing Collaborative Healthcare & Education (CACHE) for receiving the University of Toronto Temerty Faculty of Medicine 2021-2022 Ivan Silver Innovation Award for the Collaborative Change Leadership (CCL) Program: A Certificate Program for Leaders in Health and Health Education.

The 2021-2022 Continuing Professional Development (CPD) Awards recognize U of T faculty members who demonstrate excellence in teaching, program development, research and scholarship, innovation, interprofessional education, and long-term commitment to advancing CPD.

The CPD Awards Adjudication Committee and Dr. Suzan Schneeweiss, Associate Dean, Continuing Professional Development congratulate these recipients:

  • Mandy Lowe, assistant professor, Department of Occupational Science and Occupational Therapy
  • Maria Tassone, assistant professor, Department of Physical Therapy
  • Belinda Vilhena, Director, Operations and Business Development, CACHE - University of Toronto
  • Kathryn Parker, associate professor, Department of Pediatrics
  • Jill Shaver, consultant, BJ Shaver Consulting
  • Belinda Vilhena, Director of Operations and Business Development, CACHE - University of Toronto

The U of T is fortunate to have these awards that recognize and promote the importance of innovative programming in continuing professional development for health professionals.

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