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Yusuf Hamied Department of Chemistry

Image of medal and three prize winners: Klenerman, Balasubramanian & Meyer

Image courtesy the Gairdner Foundation

Professors Sir David Klenerman and Sir Shankar Balasubramanian have been named as two of the five recipients of the 2024 Canada Gairdner International Award.

Along with Dr Pascal Mayer, they have been recognised for developing the underlying methodologies that led to Solexa-Illumina Next Generation DNA Sequencing (NGS), which has enabled fast, accurate, low-cost and large-scale genome sequencing.

NGS has had an enormous impact on life sciences. Many aspects of the basic research into mechanisms in living systems now routinely involve high-throughput sequencing of DNA or RNA as the primary readout. Clinical research is undergoing a revolution via the application of genome sequencing, and genomic applications more generally, to discover the underlying causes and markers of diseases, along with substantial new knowledge on the genetic causes and signatures of cancers.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, NGS was essential to the rapid understanding of the viral cause of the disease, and then in identifying and monitoring the spread of new variants. Without this technique, progress towards developing vaccines and other interventions would have been slow.

The Gairdner Foundation stated: “It is difficult to overstate the importance and impact of NGS. It has initiated a revolution in biology, enabling the revelation of unsuspected genetic diversity in humans and their pathogens, with major implications, from cell and microbiome biology to ecology, forensics and personalized medicine.”

The Gairdner Foundation was established in 1957 in Canada by James A. Gairdner with the main goal of awarding annual prizes to individual researchers whose discoveries in biomedical and global health research have had major impact on progress in science and on human health.

The Canadian government provided the Foundation with a 20 million Canadian dollar endowment in 2008, which has helped the Foundation to maintain its vision through enhanced awards and outreach activities.

The other 2024 Canada Gairdner International Award laureates are Dr Zelig Eshhar and Dr Michel Sadelain, who have each been recognised for their trailblazing research into Chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T cell therapy, a type of cancer immunotherapy which uses genetically altered T cells to locate and destroy cancer cells.