Top honours go to cancer and neuroscience researchers at the Ottawa Health Research Institute

October 25, 2007

Three members of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) are receiving prestigious awards for groundbreaking research and leadership in the fields of cancer and neuroscience:

• Dr. Michael McBurney is receiving the Dr. J. David Grimes Research Career Achievement Award. Dr. McBurney has played a crucial role in building the Ottawa health research community by founding and leading the Centre for Cancer Therapeutics and his research has had a major impact on our understanding of cancer and stem cells.

• Dr. Ruth Slack is receiving the Researcher of the Year Award for experiments revealing how an important factor in the brain is involved in both energy production and cell death. This work has important implications for the development of new therapies for disorders such as stroke and Parkinson’s disease.

• Kelly McClellan is receiving the inaugural Dr. Ronald G. Worton Researcher in Training Award. Kelly's research has focused on understanding how stem cells give rise to new brain tissue, with the eventual goal of developing novel stem cell-based therapies.

The awards will be formally given out on October 27th at the annual Gala for Research, presented by MDS Nordion and organized by The Ottawa Hospital Foundation. The Gala, to be held at the Ottawa Congress Centre, is Ottawa’s premier social event for the health research community and a major fundraiser for the OHRI, the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa.

“These awards recognize outstanding health research in our community,” said Dr. Duncan Stewart, CEO and Scientific Director of the OHRI. “Thanks to an interesting coincidence this year, the awards also reveal the crucial role of mentorship in science, since Ms. McClellan is currently training with Dr. Slack, and Dr. Slack trained with Dr. McBurney.”

“We are proud to be associated with these award recipients and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute,” said Steve West, President of MDS Nordion, the title sponsor of this Saturday’s Gala for Research. “Their research represents a commitment to excellence and innovation that we value at MDS Nordion.”

“Congratulations to our award recipients,” said Michael LeClair, Chair of the Ottawa Hospital Foundation Board of Directors. “Our Foundation is proud to act as a link between their important work and the generosity of our community.”

For more information on the award recipients, please see the accompanying profiles. For more information on the awards and their history, please see

The Ottawa Hospital Foundation’s mission is to inspire and enable people to support the highest quality health care at The Ottawa Hospital and lifesaving research at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. For more information, visit The Ottawa Hospital Foundation Web site at

Media Contacts:

Stephen Blais
The Ottawa Hospital Foundation
Tel.: (613) 798-5555, ext. 18718

Jennifer Paterson
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Tel.: (613) 798-5555, ext. 19691

2007 MDS Nordion Gala for Research Winner Biographies

Dr. J. David Grimes Career Achievement Award: Dr. Michael McBurney

Through his ambitious vision, his tireless leadership and his exceptional commitment to the highest quality of science, Dr. Michael McBurney has influenced the Ottawa health research community like few others. For these achievements, and for others on the international stage, Dr. McBurney is receiving the 2007 Dr. J. David Grimes Career Achievement Award from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI).

Over the last 20 years, Ottawa has become a leading city for cancer research, thanks in large part to Dr. McBurney’s vision. In 1987 he applied for and received a grant from the Terry Fox Foundation to build the Centre for Cancer Therapeutics, which today houses 14 outstanding scientists along with more than 100 students and staff. Increasingly, the Centre has been recognized as a model for “translational” research, with many examples of results from the laboratory directly contributing to better patient care.

Dr. McBurney’s role in mentoring and recruiting scientists extends far beyond the Cancer Centre. Over the last 30 years, he has trained more than 50 graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. His trainees have been particularly productive and five of them currently lead their own research laboratories in Ottawa (these include Drs. John Bell, Michael Rudnicki, Ruth Slack, Paul MacPherson, Ilona Skerjanc and Christine Pratt). Former students emphasize not only Dr. McBurney’s “infectious passion for science” but also his “deep sense that it was a privilege and honour to be a part of the scientific community”.

Internationally, Dr. McBurney is considered by many to be a founding father of stem cell research. Nearly 30 years ago he isolated a unique stem cell line called P19 that has been used by more than 400 different laboratories around the world to decipher the mysteries of stem cell biology. Indeed, when the prestigious scientific journal Nature recently republished the top 20 stem cell research papers from the last 25 years, they chose not one, but two of Dr. McBurney’s seminal papers in the field. Dr. McBurney has also made breakthroughs in brain and muscle biology, embryonic gene expression, and most recently, on the role of a gene called Sir2 in aging.

Dr. McBurney is currently a Senior Scientist and Director of the Centre for Cancer Therapeutics at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. He is also a Professor in the Department of Medicine and the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology at the University of Ottawa. He has published more than 100 scientific papers and has received many prestigious awards, including the Queen’s Jubilee Medal in 2003.

Researcher of the Year Award: Dr. Ruth Slack

Every 15 minutes, someone in Canada will suffer a stroke. While some brain damage occurs almost immediately, much of it appears to be delayed - often occurring several days later. There is great optimism in the field of stroke research because this delayed type of death, referred to as apoptosis, may be preventable. Dr. Ruth Slack is receiving the 2007 Researcher of the Year Award from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) for groundbreaking research in this area. Eventually, her work could lead to the development of new therapies to prevent or reverse apoptosis and thus reduce the damage caused by stroke.

Dr. Slack is being recognized this year for her work on a protein called Apoptosis Inducing Factor, or AIF. This protein normally resides inside tiny cellular energy-producing factories called mitochondria, but during stroke it moves to the nucleus, the area of the cell that houses DNA. By constructing a novel version of AIF that could not move around in the cell, Dr. Slack and her team showed for the first time ever that the AIFs main role in cell death was due to its role in the nucleus, rather than its role in the mitochondria. This discovery has settled a long-standing controversy in the field of neuroscience and it could eventually lead to the development of new therapies for stroke and other brain disorders.

Dr. Slack is a Senior Scientist in the OHRI Neuroscience Program and an Associate Professor in the University of Ottawa Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine. She is also a member of the Heart and Stroke Foundation Centre for Stroke Recovery, the Canadian Stroke Network, the Stem Cell Network and the Parkinson’s Research Consortium. She has received many prestigious awards and has published more than 60 research papers. She has also mentored more than 30 students and postdoctoral fellows and she maintains an active teaching program at the University of Ottawa.

Dr. Ronald G. Worton Researcher in Training Award: Kelly McClellan

Kelly McClellan is fascinated by the brain and determined to make a difference in the world. As a PhD student in Dr. Ruth Slack's group for the last four years, Kelly's research has focused on understanding how stem cells in the brain give rise to the complex tissues that allows us to think, feel and experience our environment. She has discovered that a gene best known for determining when cells divide actually plays a crucial role in allowing newborn neurons move around in the developing brain. Understanding this process will be crucial to the development of novel stem cell-based therapies for diseases such as stroke, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's.

Besides being an extremely dedicated and productive researcher, Kelly is also a generous collaborator and volunteer. She has worked with local and international colleagues on a wide range of projects while authoring three of her own research paper, two reviews, and making major contributions to several successful grant applications.

Kelly has also contributed generously of her time to the greater community. She has revitalized the University of Ottawa Cellular and Molecular Medicine / Neuroscience Graduate Student Council in 2004 by serving as President for three years. Successful accomplishments of the group include initiating a biweekly newsletter and academic success seminar series. She has also contributed to the university community in many other ways, serving on University of Ottawa committees in the Faculty of Medicine Board of Governors.

Over the years, Kelly has received prestigious scholarships and awards from organizations such as the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Stem Cell Network, the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Senior Women’s Academic Administrators of Canada, the University of Ottawa, and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. She is an exceptional young researcher with unlimited potential, and the ideal inaugural recipient of the Dr. Ronald G. Worton Researcher in Training Award.