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HIV/AIDS research pioneer awarded Killam Prize

April 9, 2014 — 
Distinguished Professor Frank Plummer

Distinguished Professor Frank Plummer

In 2012, there were an estimated 35 million people living with HIV around the globe. Every year millions become infected and approximately two million die of AIDS. Countless millions have been saved by the groundbreaking work of physician, scientist and Distinguished Professor Dr. Frank Plummer, Canada Research Chair in Resistance and Susceptibility to Infections. He has single handedly created a research paradigm to understand the basis for HIV resistance and susceptibility, and successfully translated his research findings into public policy practice.

In recognition of these accomplishments, Plummer has been chosen to receive the 2014 Killam Prize in Health Sciences. The Canada Council for the Arts made the announcement today.

“The University of Manitoba is honoured to call Dr. Plummer one of our own, both as a Distinguished Professor and internationally renowned expert and as an alumnus,” says David Barnard, president and vice-chancellor of the University of Manitoba. “We congratulate him on this much deserved recognition of his tireless efforts in leading the field of infectious diseases research.”

The Killam Program offers five awards every year to outstanding Canadian scholars working in the humanities, social sciences, natural sciences, health sciences and engineering. The $100,000 Killam prize is among Canada’s most distinguished research awards. Recipients are chosen by a committee of 15 eminent Canadian scholars appointed by the Canada Council. The Killam Prizes are administered by the Canada Council for the Arts

“The Canada Council joins all Canadians in paying tribute to this year’s Killam Prize winners — individuals who have boldly and consistently pushed the boundaries of our understanding of the world,” says Joseph L. Rotman, chair of the Canada Council. “Each has aspired to excellence in their chosen disciplines and to improving the lives of people around the globe through their research and scholarly pursuits.”

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 later work, published in The Lancet (1989), found that HIV transmission rates soared from women to men, especially if these men were not circumcised. Male circumcision is now a core strategy in HIV prevention globally. The work of Plummer and his colleagues that discovered a natural immunity among Nairobi female sex trade workers is the best current hope for developing a vaccine for HIV.

Throughout his career, Plummer has been at the cutting edge of research on sexually transmitted infections (STIs), particularly HIV/AIDS. He has published more than 300 original articles in peer reviewed journals, with the ISI Web of Knowledge indicating his published work has an H-index of 60. (The index, which measures both scientific productivity and impact, gauges that after 20 years of research, an H-index of 20 is good, 40 is outstanding and 60 is exceptional).

He has additionally enabled the careers of his trainees, colleagues and collaborators. 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 the Scientific Director General of the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory in Winnipeg, as well as the Chief Science Officer. He has been instrumental in creative a supportive environment that enables scientists to carry out their shared mission to reduce the impact of infections on Canadians and the world.

In addition to his numerous publications, he has received numerous honours including his appointment as Officer of the Order of Canada, the Order of Manitoba, Fellowship, Scholarship, Scientist and Senior Scientist awards from the Medical Research Council of Canada, election as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research Researcher of the Year in 2007, the Scopus Award from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and achievement awards from Nigerians in Diaspora and the Kenyan Association of Manitoba. He was also the recipient of the highly competitive Grand Challenges in Global Health grant, an initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for his HIV research.

Plummer is the fourth Killam Prize recipient to hail from the University of Manitoba. Previous winners were Lotfollah Shafai (2011), Frank Hawthorne (2008), and Ralph G. Stanton (1985).

For further information on Dr. Plummer go to http://killamprogram.canadacouncil.ca/en/prize-winners-2014/francis-plummer

For more information, please contact Janine Harasymchuk, marketing communications, University of Manitoba, 204-474-7300.

Research at the University of Manitoba is partially supported by funding from the Government of Canada Research Support Fund.

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