By Meaghan Thurston
Five of McGill’s most distinguished researchers were honoured yesterday on Parliament Hill for their contributions to health sciences research in Canada and internationally at an event hosted by the Minister of Health, the Honourable Rona Ambrose, and jointly organized by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and McGill. Professors Alan Evans (The Margolese National Brain Prize), Brigitte Kieffer (L’Oreal Women in Science Award), Nahum Sonenberg (The Wolf Prize) and, in absentia, Brenda Milner (Kavli Prize, Dan David Prize) and Michael Meaney (Klaus J. Jacobs Research Prize) were presented with certificates of merit for their pioneering and cutting edge work in basic biology, brain imaging, psychiatry, and learning and memory.
Among the guests present for the event were members of Parliament, including Minister of State (Science and Technology) Ed Holder, and members of the Canadian Senate, as well as representatives of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, including Alain Beaudet, President. From McGill, Professor Suzanne Fortier and VP (Research and International Relations) Rosie Goldstein attended the event, along with a delegation of McGill health sciences researchers.
In her address, Minister Ambrose highlighted the importance of investing in health research excellence and innovation. “In my position as Minister of Health, I am reminded on a daily basis that we are facing some very daunting health challenges. And there are health disparities in our country that need to be addressed,” she said. “Fortunately, Canada is home to some of the greatest research minds in the world. McGill has a truly impressive history of leadership in research and innovation.”
Alain Beaudet, President of CIHR, remarked that, “by paying tribute to these individuals, we are also recognizing the preeminent role played by McGill University in attracting the world’s best investigators and fostering scientific excellence in this country. Events like this one are an important opportunity to acknowledge and promote the quality of health research that takes place in Canada.”
Prof. Fortier expressed her appreciation to Minister Ambrose and emphasized the value of the contributions of the Government of Canada and CIHR to the advancement of science and knowledge.
Brenda Milner, now in her 97th year and still an active researcher at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital, could not attend in person but sent a video message which emphasized the importance of “curiosity-driven” discovery. “I believe that the best research comes from an underlying scientific curiosity…and I think it is absolutely essential to support these basic questions,” she said. Milner emphasized that the new technologies available for brain imaging allow for unprecedented study of the brain’s functions: “the wonderful thing about brain imaging is we can study the normal brain. And it’s the normal brain we want to understand.”
Professors Evans, Kieffer and Sonenberg echoed Dr. Milner’s message, sharing anecdotes from their own research careers which illustrated how basic scientific research has paved the way for some of the major discoveries of our time, including the polio vaccine and ongoing development of antidepressant and pain management medications.