Joan A. Steitz, Ph.D., Sterling Professor of Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, and Thomas D. Pollard, M.D., chair and Sterling Professor of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology, are winners of the 2006 Gairdner International Awards, which are among the most prestigious in science.

Steitz was named by the Toronto, Canada-based Gairdner Foundation, which sponsors the awards, for her discovery of snRNPs (pronounced “snurps”), complexes of protein and RNA that edit and splice other RNA strands to form messenger RNA, the genetic recipe used by the cell’s protein-making machinery. Other RNAs and proteins studied by Steitz are believed to play roles in fertility, development, viral infection, autoimmune disease and cancer.

Pollard was cited along with Alan Hall, Ph.D., of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, for discovering the molecular basis of cellular motility and the mechanism of its regulation, fundamental knowledge required to understand embryonic development, defense against infections and the spread of malignant tumors in the body.

The awards, which will be presented in October in Toronto, “honor outstanding achievements in our understanding of our cells with major ramifications for cancer, nutrition, auto-immune disease, atherosclerosis and hormone action,” says John Dirks, M.D., the Gairdner Foundation’s president. Ralph Brinster, V.M.D., Ph.D., of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Veterinary Medicine, and Ronald M. Evans, Ph.D., of the Salk Institute for Biological Sciences, will also receive Gairdner International Awards from the foundation.

The Gairdner Foundation was established in 1957 by Toronto stockbroker and industrialist James A. Gairdner, whose lifelong interest in medical research led to his conviction that the achievements of medical scientists should be acknowledged in a tangible way.

Since 1959, the Gairdner International Awards have honored outstanding contributions by medical scientists worldwide whose work will significantly improve the quality of life. Of the 279 Gairdner winners, 65 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

Awardees are chosen in a two-stage process, through two medical advisory committees of leading Canadian and international medical scientists. Each prize carries a cash award of $30,000 (Canadian). As part of the Gairdner Foundation’s mandate to communicate the work of medical researchers, Gairdner winners visit universities across Canada to present academic lectures on their area of expertise.

In 2004, another member of the medical school faculty, Arthur L. Horwich, M.D., the Eugene Higgins Professor of Genetics and Pediatrics and a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator, won a Gairdner International Award for his influential research on protein folding mechanisms in the cell.