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(L-R): Dr. Janet Rossant (President & Scientific Director, Gairdner Foundation), Dr. Frank Plummer, Dr. Lorne Tyrrell (Chair, Gairdner Board of Directors) and President Barnard.

Insight into groundbreaking research on World AIDS Day

Distinguished Professor Frank Plummer recognized for groundbreaking research with 2016 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award

December 1, 2016 — 

Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day, a chance for people to unite in the fight against HIV, show their support for those living with HIV and remember people who have died.

UM Today revisits below the work of one of the world’s leading HIV researchers from the University of Manitoba:


Distinguished Professor Frank Plummer’s research findings shocked the early 1980s world view of AIDS being a male homosexual or blood-borne disease with his discovery of male to female transmission of HIV, overturning conventional wisdom that women were less susceptible to acquiring HIV sexually.

His findings have had enormous impacts on global health policy and are saving many millions of lives. Plummer was recognized in October for his outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science throughout his career by the Gairdner Foundation with the 2016 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award.

“Dr. Frank Plummer is a deserving laureate of the 2016 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award. First, for his research in Kenya on understanding HIV transmission and treatment options and second, for his exemplary leadership in Canada helping battle major epidemic such as SARS, Ebola and H1N1,” says Dr. John Dirks, President and Scientific Director, Gairdner Foundation.

Among the world’s most esteemed medical research prizes, the awards distinguish Canada as a leader in science and provide a $100,000 (CDN) prize to each scientist which they can spend as they wish. Of the 344 Gairdner winners to date, 83 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

“Dr. Plummer is an early pioneer in the field of infectious diseases and much of the body of knowledge today about HIV/AIDS transmission and prevention strategies were his discoveries and innovations,” says David Barnard, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba. “We are proud to call him our own, both as a Distinguished Professor and as an alumnus, and congratulate him on this meritorious recognition.”

Throughout his career, Plummer has been at the cutting edge of research on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), particularly HIV/AIDS, and he has trained the next generation of researchers to his exceptional degree. He co-founded the University of Manitoba-University of Nairobi Collaborative Research Program in the early 1980s and brought other academic institutions into the collaboration, including the University of Washington, Oxford University, University of Ghent, the Tropical Diseases Institute of Antwerp, and the University of Toronto. This consortium is the leading infectious diseases research initiative in sub-Saharan Africa.

Plummer is an alumnus of the University of Manitoba’s medical college [MD/76] and Distinguished Professor in the Departments of Medical Microbiology and Community Health Sciences.

A legacy of excellence

Plummer sits with his friend Jennifer in Kenya, whom he met in his 17 years working in the country. He met her when she was 17 and diagnosed with HIV. Today she has 3 healthy children thanks, in part, to the work of Dr. Plummer // Submitted photo

Frank Plummer worked in Kenya for 17 years and met many wonderful people, including Jennifer. They met when she was 16 and recently diagnosed with HIV. Today she has three healthy children thanks, in part, to the work of Plummer.

His groundbreaking achievements include: the early identification and confirmation that there is indeed a largely heterosexually transmitted epidemic of HIV in Africa; the important role of conventional STIs in enhancing and facilitating HIV infection; understanding the important role of breastfeeding in the transmission of HIV from mothers to children; finding that hormonal contraceptive methods can facilitate HIV transmission; important protective factor of male circumcision for HIV acquisition in men; identification of highly HIV-exposed sex workers who are resistant to HIV infection and the subsequent understanding of acquired immunity to HIV; and most importantly, the importance of focused prevention programs for sex workers and their clients in reducing HIV transmission in both of these groups and in the general community

He has received substantial recognition including: an Officer of the Order of Canada, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair from 2001-2014, a Member of the Order of Manitoba. In addition, he has received many awards and accolades for his research including: Chief Public Health Officer Medal (2014), Partners in Research Biomedical Science Ambassador Award (2014), Killam Prize (Health Sciences) from the Canada Council for the Arts (2014), Prix Galien Canada Research Award (2013), McLaughlin Medal of the Royal Society of Canada (2012), HIV Research Achievement Award from the Nigerians in Diaspora Organization (2009), CIHR Michael Smith Prize in Health Research (2007), and the Louis Pasteur Award for Excellence in AIDS Research (1998).

Plummer served as the Scientific Director General of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg from 2000 to 2014, as well as the Chief Science Officer. He is a Special Advisor to the Chief Public Health Officer, Public Health Agency of Canada. He has been instrumental in creating a supportive environment that enables scientists to carry out their shared mission to reduce the impact of infections on Canadians and the world.

Plummer is the third Canada Gairdner Wightman Award recipient from the University of Manitoba. Previous winners were Henry Friesen (2001) and Allan Ronald (2006).

About Gairdner

The Canada Gairdner Awards promote a stronger culture of research and innovation across the country, inspiring the next generation of researchers with the programs that bring current and past laureates to Canada to speak at 22 universities.

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