TORONTO - Some of the world's most celebrated scientific superstars have gathered in Toronto this week to mark the 50th anniversary of the Canada Gairdner Awards.
The city is playing host to dozens of the best scientific minds in the world, including some 20 Nobel laureates, who will congregate in the lecture halls and labs clustered around the University of Toronto.
They will be celebrating the legacy - and this year's winners - of the Gairdner Award, one of the most coveted biomedical prizes in the world.
"It will be an amazing concentration of biomedical scientists who have won the Nobel Prize," said Peter Lewis, vice-dean of research and international relations at the University of Toronto. "Normally, if you have one of those individuals at a time, it's a pretty big deal. But to have this many, spanning such a broad range of biomedical science, is almost unprecedented."
The three-day event, which includes some 35 lectures, has generated major buzz in the city's scientific community, with people clamouring to see the big names in person.
Among them is Shinya Yamanaka of Japan, who two years ago wowed the world when he discovered how to coax human skin cells to act like powerful embryonic stem cells, which are capable of becoming any tissue in the body.
The finding, for which the Kyoto University scientist will take home one of five Canada Gairdner Awards to be presented Thursday, has been compared to turning lead into gold.
The $100,000 prizes are given by the Gairdner Foundation, created in 1959 by Canadian philanthropist James Arthur Gairdner. They are considered a predictor of future Nobel laureates: seventy-three Gairdner winners over the past 50 years have also won Nobel prizes.
Dr. John Dirks, the foundation's president and scientific director, attributes this success to the foresight of its founder. "He made a call that nominations should be received from all over the world and given to the best people, no matter where they come from."
The other 2009 Gairdner winners:
-Lucy Shapiro of Stanford University and Richard Losick of Harvard University for their research on how bacteria grow, divide or become dormant.
-Kazutoshi Mori of Kyoto University and Peter Walter of the University of California for their work on protein folding.
-Dr. Nubia Munoz, emeritus professor of the National Cancer Institute in Colombia, is the inaugural winner of the Gairdner Global Health Award for work that led to developing cervical cancer vaccines.
-Dr. David Sackett of McMaster University in Hamilton receives the Gairdner Wightman Award, given to a Canadian who has demonstrated outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science, "for his leadership in the fields of clinical epidemiology and evidence-based medicine."