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Renowned U of T Alzheimer’s researcher wins prestigious international health award

Professor St George-Hyslop accepted the BIAL Award in Medical Sciences on May 14 (photo courtesy Faculty of Medicine)

World-renowned molecular geneticist Professor Peter St George-Hyslop, director of the University of Toronto’s Tanz Centre for Research in Neurodegenerative Diseases, has won one of Europe’s top health awards for his pioneering work on the roots of neurodegenerative diseases.

The BIAL Foundation is honouring St George-Hyslop with a BIAL Merit Award in Medical Sciences, one of the world’s most prestigious awards for health research. Europe’s equivalent of Canada’s Gairdner Awards or the United States’ Lasker Awards, the BIAL Merit Award recognizes written work that has major scientific relevance.

St George-Hyslop’s winning research paper, Translating Discoveries in Basic Molecular Biology, Cell Biology, and Molecular Genetics into Transformative Approaches to the Diagnosis and Treatment of Currently Incurable Neurodegenerative Dementias, explores the key role that the discovery of genes with disease-causing mutations played in understanding the molecular pathogenesis of these diseases.

It described the creation of useful model-organisms bearing these disease-causing mutations. Finally, it outlined the ongoing efforts to translate knowledge about the disease mechanism into potential diagnostics and disease-modifying therapies. 

“I am honoured to work with some of the world’s finest researchers who are dedicated to helping millions of people around the world through the advancement of knowledge and accelerated research and discovery on neurodegenerative diseases,” says St George-Hyslop. “There’s a lot of work that still needs to be done, but together we are an innovative force for progress on one of the century’s most significant health challenges.”

St George-Hyslop—also Director of UHN’s Memory Clinic—has produced an extensive body of research that focuses on understanding the causes and molecular mechanisms underlying neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer's, Parkinson's and Frontotemporal Dementia.

Professor St George-Hyslop receives award from Portuguese President

By discovering two genes responsible for early-onset Alzheimer’s, St George-Hyslop and his team have made early diagnoses and treatment of the disease possible, often before brain damage occurs. They are currently taking some of the knowledge about the molecular mechanisms of the disease that were uncovered by their genetic studies, and using this information to develop novel diagnostics and treatments.

“Professor St George-Hyslop leads a wonderful team that has made extraordinary discoveries. This latest recognition is another indicator of the impact and importance of his work, and a most fitting tribute to Peter’s brilliance, vision, and dedication,” says University of Toronto President David Naylor.

“Groundbreaking discovery requires intensive investigation, and, with Professor St George-Hyslop’s leadership, the Tanz Centre’s relentless approach to pursuing these discoveries will help solve the mystery of complex neurodegenerative illnesses,” says Faculty of Medicine Dean Catharine Whiteside.

Portuguese President Aníbal António Cavaco Silva (pictured above) presented St George-Hyslop with his Merit Award on May 14, 2013 in Porto, Portugal.

Suniya Kukaswadia writes for the Faculty of Medicine.