Renowned RNA researcher to present Gairdner lecture events

The University of Lethbridge’s Alberta RNA Research and Training Institute (ARRTI) is thrilled to partner with the Canada Gairdner Foundation in bringing 2015 Canada Gairdner Foundation International Award winner Dr. Lynne Maquat to southern Alberta for a series of public speaker events.

Maquat, whose work has furthered our understanding of the molecular basis of human disease,will be involved in a trio of speaker events, including a presentation to students at Lethbridge Collegiate Institute, as a featured speaker for the Women’s Scholar Speaker Series (A Conversation with Dr. Lynne Maquat on Women and Science, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 12 p.m. in TH241) and as the keynote lecturer for the Canada Gairdner Symposium, New Horizons in RNA Research, Oct. 20-21, 2015. That free lecture takes place on Tuesday, Oct. 20 at 2 p.m. in the Students' Union Ballroom.

Dr. Lynne Maquat earned the 2015 Canada Gairdner Foundation International Award for the discovery of the mechanism that destroys mutant messenger RNAs in human cells, which is critically important in both normal and disease states.

“In the last three years we have had the opportunity to work with the Canada Gairdner Foundation and bring some of the world’s top researchers to the University of Lethbridge,” says University of Lethbridge Vice-President (Research) Dr. Erasmus Okine. In 2013, the U of L welcomed Dr. Samuel Weiss at a Gairdner Foundation Speaker Event, and last year Dr. Nubia Muñoz brought her expertise to campus.

“The Canada Gairdner International Award is exceeded in prestige by only a few international science awards, including the Nobel Prize in Medicine,” adds Okine. “We feel very fortunate to be able to bring these researchers to southern Alberta and give them a platform by which they can inspire students of all ages to pursue their passion for science.”

Maquat is the director of the Center for RNA Biology: From Genome to Therapeutics, professor of biochemistry and biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry, and a J. Lowell Orbison Endowed Chair. She earned the 2015 Canada Gairdner Foundation International Award for the discovery of the mechanism that destroys mutant messenger RNAs in human cells, called nonsense-mediated mRNA decay, which is critically important in both normal and disease states.

Messenger RNA (mRNA) takes genetic instructions from DNA and uses these to direct the synthesis of proteins that carry out multiple cellular functions. Maquat discovered nonsense-mediated mRNA decay (NMD) in human cells. NMD is a quality control mechanism that removes flawed messenger RNA molecules that, if left intact, would lead to the production of abnormal proteins that could be toxic to cells and initiate disease. Cells also use this pathway to better respond to changing environmental conditions. For example, breast cancer cells inhibit this pathway to augment their response to chemotherapy and hasten cell death.

NMD functions in one-third of inherited disorders, such as cystic fibrosis, and one-third of acquired diseases, including many forms of cancer. Her work provides valuable information to help physicians implement personalized or precision medicine by treating the disease mutation that is specific to each individual patient.

“With our focus on RNA research here in ARRTI, we are very excited about Dr. Maquat’s visit. Her profile will attract researchers from Lethbridge, Calgary and Edmonton to participate in the ARRTI Canada Gairdner Symposium,” says Dr. Ute Kothe, professor of chemistry and biochemistry. “Dr. Maquat has transformed the field of RNA research by using fundamental research to discover cellular mechanisms that lead to future therapies. All students and researchers are looking forward to learn from her and to discuss the latest findings in biomedical RNA research with her. In particular our students will benefit from the personal interaction with such a successful researcher.”

Since 1959, there have been 321 researchers presented with the Canada Gairdner International Award, 82 of which have gone on to win a Nobel Prize in Medicine. The Canada Gairdner International Award has an international reputation for recognizing outstanding medical breakthroughs, and it is now widely considered to be an indicator of future Nobel-Prize winning research.

In addition, the Canada Gairdner Foundation is a national education program supported by the Government of Canada as well as the Government of Alberta. In 2008, the Canadian Government provided the Canada Gairdner Foundation with $20 million to continue the award for future generations. Part of this funding is used to inspire young people to consider medical and scientific careers, and to increase public awareness of the value of scientific research and discovery.