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2015 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award goes to Dr. Janet Rossant

Janet Rossant holds the title of University Professor at U of T, a distinction reserved for the university's pre-eminent scholars, awarded to no more than two per cent of faculty

University Professor Janet Rossant is the winner of the 2015 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award – one of the most prestigious medical research awards in Canada. 

Rossant was recognized March 25 for her extensive scientific contributions to developmental biology, her international leadership in stem cell biology and policy-making, and her pivotal role in advancing research programs for children’s health. 

“Professor Rossant is doing brilliant, exciting work on the cutting edge of global biomedical research – work that holds great promise for the advancement of our knowledge of human biology and disease,” said Meric Gertler, president of U of T. “I am delighted that her world-leading excellence has been recognized by the Gairdner Foundation. On behalf of the entire U of T community, I extend hearty congratulations.”

The Canada Gairdner Wightman Award is given to a scientist who has demonstrated outstanding national leadership in medicine and medical science in Canada. 

Rossant, a member of the departments of molecular genetics, obstetrics and gynaecology, is an internationally recognized scientist whose 40-year career has been devoted to advancing the fundamental understanding of embryo development and stem cell origins. She has revolutionized the landscape surrounding stem cell research through an array of key leadership roles, including chief of research at SickKids, president of the International Society for Stem Cell Research, deputy scientific director of the Canadian Stem Cell Network, and director of the Ontario Institute for Regenerative Medicine. 

As a leader in stem cell research, Rossant has contributed significantly to the scientific community’s understanding of stem cells, which have the potential to unlock new therapies for a wide variety of disorders from cancer to diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases. Rossant’s research into personalized stem cell medicine is primed to make significant improvements to global health care and quality of life, said Dr. Trevor Young, dean of the Faculty of Medicine at U of T. A respected voice in the stem cell debate, she has established Canada as a global forerunner in stem cell and genetic research, Young said. 

Rossant pioneered new techniques to manipulate the mouse genome, enabling the mouse to become the preeminent model for understanding the function of the human genome sequence. This has been a key resource to those studying the molecular basis of many human diseases and the effectiveness of various drugs for treatments.


“Under Dr. Rossant’s visionary leadership, SickKids’ national and international prominence as one of the world’s most celebrated child health research centres has continued to grow and flourish,” said Dr. Michael Apkon, SickKids president and chief executive officer. “The entire SickKids community joins me in congratulating Dr. Rossant for this well-deserved recognition and prestigious award.”

Rossant’s vision for increased multidisciplinary collaboration as a critical tool to propel scientific discovery guided the design and governance of SickKids’ state-of-the-art research tower: The Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning. The Gilgan Centre creates an environment for scientists, clinicians and research staff from diverse disciplines to work together in addressing critical child health issues. 

A highly prolific Canadian scientist, Rossant has 379 publications to her name, including more than 58,000 lifetime citations. In her long-standing career in Canada, she has trained 56 post-doctoral fellows and 27 graduate students. 

“It is a huge honour to receive this award on behalf of SickKids, U of T and all the people throughout my career who have helped make my journey in science such fun,” says Rossant.

The 2015 Canada Gairdner Awards will be presented at a dinner in Toronto on October 29, 2015.