McMaster professor Deborah Cook is the winner of the prestigious 2022 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award for her ground-breaking research in the treatment of patients in the intensive care unit (ICU).

The award, given by the Gairdner Foundation, is in recognition for her outstanding leadership in medicine and medical science throughout her career.

Cook, a McMaster alumna and critical care physician with 30 years’ experience, has pioneered improvements in ICU patient management that has both reduced the risk of complications and enhanced end-of-life care for those with fatal illnesses or injuries.

As the first Canadian critical care specialist trained in clinical epidemiology and biostatistics, the results of Cook’s research are now standard practice internationally in preventing and treating gastrointestinal bleeding, blood clots and ventilator-associated pneumonia in ICU patients.

“I feel very overwhelmed by this award, I am deeply humbled and grateful to all the teachers, trainees, clinicians, collaborators and staff with whom I’ve had the privilege of working,” said Cook, a Distinguished University Professor of medicine at McMaster.

“There are so many talented, discerning and accomplished scientists here in Hamilton and across our country. To be recognized as one of them playing even a small part in the advance of medical research is truly awe-inspiring.”

Cook, a critical care physician at St. Joseph’s Healthcare Hamilton, grew her reputation as a trailblazer early in her career by working to improve end-of-life care for patients, even when some senior colleagues questioned whether it was a legitimate field of inquiry.

Nevertheless, Cook kept studying possible improvements to end-of-life care that would provide a dignified death to ICU patients with no hope of recovery.

She is a seasoned trialist, and well-known authority on patient-centred, investigator-led research. She also helped found and operate the first successful critical care research collaboration in the world, which has been replicated in many other countries.

“Dr. Deborah Cook is a deserving laureate of our 2022 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, and we are pleased to bring her into the Gairdner family of more than 400 laureates. Her pioneering research has transformed critical care medicine in Canada and has enduring global impact,” said Janet Rossant, president and scientific director, of the Gairdner Foundation.

Paul O’Byrne, dean and vice-president of the Faculty of Health Sciences, said: “Dr. Cook’s Canada Gairdner Wightman award distinguishes her as a clinician researcher of the highest calibre.

“Her drive to improve the field of critical care from both medical and compassion perspectives has enormous global impact. She embodies McMaster’s mission to advance human and societal health and well-being.”

For Cook, maintaining her high-calibre research means keeping up her collaborations with different researchers and remaining open-minded to new ideas.

“I have always tried to start my day with the frame of mind that my best work is still ahead of me,” said Cook.

Cook is the fourth McMaster faculty member to win the Canada Gairdner Wightman Award.

The others are Salim Yusuf in 2014, for spearheading global clinical trials and population studies of cardiovascular disease; David Sackett in 2009, as a pioneer of evidence-based medicine who founded Canada’s first department of clinical epidemiology at McMaster; and John Evans in 1992, the founding dean of the innovative Michael G. DeGroote School of Medicine.

The Canada Gairdner Wightman Award winner receives a $100,000 cash prize.

The award is one of three offered by the Gairdner Foundation. The others are the Canada Gairdner International Awards for biomedical research and the John Dirks Canada Gairdner Global Health Award.

The Gairdner Foundation was established in 1957 by Toronto stockbroker, James Gairdner to award annual prizes to researchers whose discoveries have had major impact on scientific progress and human health.



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