Gala honours research excellence at the Ottawa Health Research Institute

October 28, 2006

Ottawa’s business and community leaders honoured two outstanding researchers tonight at the 2006 MDS Nordion Gala for Research, an annual event to celebrate research and to raise funds for the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI). This year’s Gala raised more than $125,000.

Dr. Peter Stys was named Researcher of the Year for revealing important new insights into how the wiring of the nervous system becomes damaged in diseases such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, brain trauma and spinal cord injury.

Dr. Seymour Brownstein won the Dr. J. David Grimes Research Career Achievement Award for his research on the eye, including the development of a novel freezing technique that can eliminate certain types of precancerous lesions before they develop into full-blown cancer.

“Dr. Stys and Dr. Brownstein are both exceptionally talented researchers, driven to find new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat disease,” said Dr. Ronald Worton, CEO and Scientific Director of the OHRI.

The awards ceremony included a special tribute to Dr. Worton, who will be retiring next year. In his honour, the creation of a new Dr. Ronald G. Worton Researcher in Training Award was announced. Starting at next year’s Gala, this award will be presented each year to an OHRI student researcher who has demonstrated outstanding effort in their research and is deemed highly likely to succeed in future research endeavours.

The Gala for Research is an annual black-tie event to recognize and support outstanding research at the OHRI, the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital. The event attracts more than 500 of Ottawa’s business and community leaders.

For more information about this year’s award winners, please see the biographies included below.


The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) is a multi-campus, academic health sciences centre, serving 1.5 million residents of Ottawa and Eastern Ontario, both in English and French. It provides care for more patients than any other hospital in Canada, and is one of the largest acute care hospitals in the country. It boasts specialty centres in cancer, heart, kidney and vision care, as well as rehabilitation services. Working together with the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, the University of Ottawa, and other partners, TOH is gaining national recognition for high-quality patient care, teaching and research. It ranks as one of the most efficient teaching hospitals in the country. For more information, visit The Ottawa Hospital Web site at

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

For more information, please contact:

Robin Percival
The Ottawa Hospital Foundation
Media & Public Relations Officer
Tel.: (613) 798-5555, ext. 18718

Jennifer Paterson
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Tel.: (613) 798-5555 ext. 19691

2006 MDS Nordion Gala for Research Winner Biographies

Researcher of the Year: Dr. Peter Stys, Neuroscience

Almost half of the human brain is made up of “wiring” consisting of billions of nerve fibres, their insulating layers (myelin) and supporting cells (glia); collectively called “white matter”. For more than 15 years, Dr. Peter Stys’ research has focused on white matter of the central nervous system, and specifically on how the nerve fibres of white matter are damaged in common and devastating diseases such as stroke, multiple sclerosis, brain trauma and spinal cord injury. The wiring is important because it doesn’t matter how healthy a nerve fibre may be if it ends up disconnected from its neighbors or the rest of the body by a disease process.

After receiving his medical degree at the University of Ottawa and neurology training at the University of Toronto, Dr. Stys bucked the trend and rather than setting up clinical practice, went to Yale as a post-doctoral fellow to begin his research career. His pioneering work on white matter has shed very important light on this crucial but under-studied part of the brain and spinal cord. He has published several seminal papers reporting novel and unexpected mechanisms of how nerve fibres and their insulating sheaths suffer damage, research that has had major implications on the design of drugs for these common and devastating diseases. His most recent paper, published in the prestigious journal Nature earlier this year, has completely redefined current thinking about myelin and showed that nerve fibres “talk” to their insulating sheaths using neurochemicals, much like nerve cells communicate with each other. Ironically, this chemical interaction may cause serious damage to myelin under disease conditions, with devastating consequences for the patient.

As a professor in the University of Ottawa’s Department of Medicine, Dr. Stys continues to be clinically active on the Neurology service at The Ottawa Hospital, seeing patients and teaching residents, and has a particular interest in MS and stroke. In the lab, he oversees a parallel research effort in biophotonics, in collaboration with Physics and Engineering at the University of Ottawa and the NRC’s Steacie Institute, with the goal of harnessing the latest technological advances in photonics and laser physics to biological studies. He holds grants from many government and private agencies that support his research.

Dr. Stys has published 80 scientific papers, numerous abstracts, two books, and has written several specialized software programs in daily use in the lab. He holds visiting faculty appointments in the Dept. of Neurology at Yale University and Systems and Computer Engineering at Carleton. He was awarded the Ontario Premier’s Research Excellence Award and his biography appears in Canadian Who's Who.

Dr. J. David Grimes Research Career Achievement Award: Dr. Seymour Brownstein, Ophthalmology

Dr. Seymour Brownstein is an ocular pathologist par excellence. When asked to elaborate on his most important research achievement, Dr. Brownstein’s immediate response is “conjunctival melanoma, its management and the improved recognition of diagnostic and prognostic features”. He began this work in the late 1970s as a young faculty member in Ophthalmology and Pathology at McGill University, and continued the work after he moved to the newly created University of Ottawa Eye Institute at The Ottawa Hospital in 1992. Dr. Brownstein was the first to demonstrate the use of cryotherapy for the management of the “precancerous” phase of this condition, thereby preventing the development of this potentially lethal form of cancer and alleviating the need for blinding and disfiguring surgery. Dr. Brownstein’s continued studies on the detailed pathology of these cancerous lesions have led to earlier and more definitive diagnoses of these tumours with a significant improvement in prognosis for those affected.

Dr. Brownstein has devoted his entire career to both academia and patient care, and the study of melanoma represents only a small fraction of his many significant contributions. His research activities centre on his ophthalmic pathology laboratory where he analyses eye tissues from a wide spectrum of eye diseases. His unique contribution lies in his obsession with developing knowledge through detailed investigation of eye pathology leading to nearly 200 scientific publications and 600 presentations at academic meetings throughout the world. He is a true international ambassador for the Eye Institute, the Hospital, the University and the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

Dr. Brownstein currently holds the Les Amis Chair in vision research, is a University of Ottawa Professor of Ophthalmology and Laboratory Medicine (Pathology), and a scientist in the OHRI. He has received many international awards and invited lectureships, and has given numerous invited presentations at international meetings. He was the founding editor of the Journal of the American Association of Ophthalmic Pathologists, and chaired the first combined meeting of the American Ophthalmic Pathology Societies of which he was elected president in 2003.

Dr. Brownstein loves teaching and sharing his academic experiences. He has trained more than 35 fellows, the majority of whom have received academic awards for their research presentations. He thrives on interactive audience participation especially with large groups of residents. He prides himself on being the only guest invited for over 20 consecutive years to the Greater New York City Lecture Series, teaching residents from all five New York-based medical schools, and on serving as a visiting professor at Hadassah University in Jerusalem, where he lectures simultaneously to both Israeli and Palestinian physicians.