Consider This: What The Gairdner Symposium in Precision Health Brings to Our Academy

You may have seen the posters with the eye-catching big red apple. This Thursday and Friday, the University of Alberta is hosting the…

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You may have seen the posters with the eye-catching big red apple. This Thursday and Friday, the University of Alberta is hosting the Gairdner Symposium on Precision Health―From Data to Wellness. Undoubtedly you have been asking: ""What does the Gairdner Symposium in Precision Health bring to our academy?"

In 1957, James A. Gairdner donated $500,000 to establish the Gairdner Foundation. James was ahead of his time in terms of 'diversifying his career,' and spent time as an athlete, a soldier, a stockbroker, a businessman, a philanthropist and a landscape painter. In his early '50s, James began to suffer from severe arthritis and became involved in the newly established Canadian Arthritis and Rheumatism Society.

James' goals for the Gairdner Foundation were to recognize major research contributions from around the world that lead to insights and solutions to disease and human suffering.

The Canada Gairdner Awards celebrate the world's top biomedical and global health researchers and are Canada's most prestigious scientific recognition as well as a top scientific award worldwide. Eight-nine recipients out of a total of 380 Gairdner awardees since 1957 have gone on to receive Nobel Prizes―attesting to the stature of this Canadian Foundation and its programs.

In collaboration with partner academic institutions, the Gairdner Foundation also hosts an annual International Symposium that convenes worldwide scientists to discuss and debate at the forefronts of science and health.

And so what does the Gairdner Symposium in Precision Health bring to our academy?And so what does the Gairdner Symposium in Precision Health bring to our academy?

This timely and prestigious symposium serves to soften the ground for the University of Alberta's Precision Health Signature Area that was recently announced by President Turpin.

For many University members the symposium will provide an opportunity to learn more about what precisely is Precision Health. A host of terms tend to confuse the field―these include precision medicine, personalized medicine, stratified medicine and so on.

Yet the underlying premise in all the terminology is that the integration of an individual's molecular, clinical, social, and other data, can drastically improve the accuracy of diagnosis and thus treatment (or prevention) of disease. This approach can also be used to study populations to better understand and address the social determinants of health.

The U of A Precision Health Signature Area builds upon existing research and education strengths and capabilities, to increase national competitiveness and improve patient health. In order to understand the complexity of disease and develop solutions to improve health, collaboration and insight from many disciplines―and across many jurisdictions―is required.

The symposium brings together top-quality speakers from Canada, USA, Australia and the UK to engage with our scientists, health professionals and trainees. This creates an important venue for networking and making vital connections that can lead to new ideas and initiatives, papers, funding, and graduate student training opportunities.

The two-day program on Precision Health is divided into four themes: Diagnostics, Therapeutics, Analytics and Public Health. This format is 'disease agnostic' and reflects the framework for the University's Precision Health Signature Area initiative.

By building out research and education 'themes and teams' across these sectors, the University of Alberta will leverage its strengths in basic, social and health-related sciences and infrastructures. The Precision Health Signature Area initiative possesses incredible potential to deliver innovative projects, increase collaboration across the University's academic community, educate graduate students and trainees that are fit for the future, and increase the competitiveness of our University.

The Symposium convenes leaders to celebrate excellence, create community and excitement around Precision Health and inspire the next generation of scientists and professionals. Come! Get energized and spark conversations at the University of Alberta Gairdner Symposium on Precision Health.

Deborah James - Executive Director (Innovation), Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry

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Deborah James, BSc (Pharm), PhD, is Executive Director of Innovation for the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, University of Alberta. With more than 15 years of academic-executive and consulting experience, Dr. James works extensively across the public and private sector to bridge, create and implement large-scale initiatives that demonstrate value to care providers, academia and industry. Her particular interests are in precision diagnostics, point of care testing, digital health, and how new disruptive technologies are substantially changing healthcare delivery. Dr. James leads the Faculty's Precision Health initiative that is founded on access to and analysis of robust health data, and bringing new health innovations to market and/or adoption. Dr. James received her degree in clinical pharmacy from the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, University of Alberta (1989) and completed her PhD (1996) studying the neuro-immunological basis of airways disease. She has taught extensively in therapeutics, toxicology, pharmacology, immunology and disease mechanisms.