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About SickKids

April 25, 2019

Dr. Stephen Scherer awarded Killam prize, top health sciences award in Canada

TORONTO – One of The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)’s own was awarded the Killam Prize in health sciences today. Dr. Stephen Scherer, Director, The Centre for Applied Genomics (TCAG) and Senior Scientist, Genetics & Genome Biology, joins the prestigious group of Canadians who have received this award.

The Killam Prizes, awarded by The Canada Council for the Arts, recognize the work of Canadian scholars in humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, health sciences and engineering. Each year, the Canada Council selects five Killam Prize winners – one in each field. The Killam Program has been awarding Canadians annually for over 50 years.

Scherer’s research has directly helped scientists, doctors and families all over the world. His most notable discovery contributed to the initial description of genome-wide copy number variations (CNVs) as a significant form of genetic variation. Differences in the DNA sequence of our genomes contribute to our uniqueness. It was thought that single nucleotide changes (called SNPs) in DNA were the most prevalent and important form of genetic variation. However, Scherer and colleagues revealed that CNVs comprise at least 10 times the total nucleotide content of SNPs, and that genes don’t always come in pairs of two, overturning scientific dogma of the time.

Scherer went on to discover CNVs to be involved in autism and other developmental disorders, and he founded the Database of Genomic Variants, that facilitates thousands of clinical diagnoses around the world every day.

“Steve’s research contributions have fundamentally altered our understanding of human diversity and disease,” says Dr. Michael Salter, Chief of Research and Senior Scientist in Neurosciences and Mental Health at SickKids. “He is Canada’s leading expert in genetic studies of autism, and he is most deserving of the prestigious Killam Prize for health sciences.” 

Dr. Ronald Cohn, Paediatrician-in-Chief and Senior Scientist at SickKids, adds, “Steve’s commitment to translational research is exemplary and he is a role model for so many of us.”

Scherer’s publications have been highly influential and cited by many other researchers. In fact, in 2014 Scherer was recognized as a Nobel-class Citation Laureate in the category of physiology or medicine by Thomson Reuters Intellectual Property & Science (now known as Clarivate Analytics). The merit recognizes the impact of a researcher's work within the scientific community based on publication citations from fellow researchers, but also takes in other factors seen as Nobel-worthy such as groundbreaking nature of the research.

“Working with Steve over these many years has been an inspiring experience. He has transformed our understanding of the genetics of complex disorders,” says Dr. Peter Szatmari, Chief, Child and Youth Mental Health Collaborative at SickKids and the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). “I feel lucky to have collaborated with him and to have learned so much.”

Scherer’s PhD mentor, Dr. Lap-Chee Tsui, won the Killam Prize in health sciences in 2002. Scherer had the opportunity to attend the award ceremony as one of Tsui’s guests. A young and eager scientist, Scherer’s expectations were set high with the hope of one day achieving the same accolade.

“It is a tremendous honour to receive the Killam Prize and be recognized amongst great minds,” says Scherer, who is also Director, McLaughlin Centre and distinguished University Professor at the University of Toronto. “New technology and eyes-open curiosity allowed us to uncover regions of the genome previously hidden away from geneticists, and once over the shock of the enormity of genes we found affected by CNV, we simply asked which ones predict disease.”

Learn more about the Killam Program and see the winners in the other categories.

About The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) is recognized as one of the world’s foremost paediatric health-care institutions and is Canada’s leading centre dedicated to advancing children’s health through the integration of patient care, research and education. Founded in 1875 and affiliated with the University of Toronto, SickKids is one of Canada’s most research-intensive hospitals and has generated discoveries that have helped children globally. Its mission is to provide the best in complex and specialized family-centred care; pioneer scientific and clinical advancements; share expertise; foster an academic environment that nurtures health-care professionals; and champion an accessible, comprehensive and sustainable child health system. SickKids is a founding member of Kids Health Alliance, a network of partners working to create a high quality, consistent and coordinated approach to pediatric health care that is centred around children, youth and their families. SickKids is proud of its vision for Healthier Children. A Better World.

Media contacts
Vanessa Blanchard
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)
416-813-7654 ext. 228728
vanessa.blanchard@sickkids.ca

Jessamine Luck
The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids)
416-813-7654 ext. 201436
jessamine.luck@sickkids.ca

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