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April 25, 2001

Penn Scientist Named Winner of Gairdner Foundation International Award for Medical Science

The Gairdner Foundation of Canada has named Clay M. Armstrong, MD, Professor of Physiology at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, one of four scientists to receive its 2001 International Award for achievement in medical science.

Armstrong will be honored along with two other researchers for advances in establishing the molecular structure of ion channels and discerning how those channels function in generating nerve impulses. A fourth researcher will be honored for work with microtubules.
A fifth scientist, Henry Friesen, MD, of the Board of Genome Canada in Winnipeg, will receive the Gairdner Foundation's Wightman Award for Contributions to Canadian Medicine.

The Gairdner's International Award, which has been bestowed by the non-profit foundation annually since 1959, is one of the most significant international medical science awards. Winners are selected from hundreds of candidates in a secret ballot by a committee of scientists from Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom. Of 251 past recipients, 54 have gone on to win the Nobel Prize.

Armstrong, who also received the prestigious John Scott Award from the City of Philadelphia last year for his work, uses giant axon cells of the squid in his research. He studies the "gating" process, which opens and closes ion (sodium and potassium) channels, in work that has expanded scientific understanding of the human body's electrophysiology: Ion channels, responding to the electrical potential of cell membranes, initiate the electrical impulses involved in muscle contraction, cardiac rhythm, hormone secretion and storing-and-retrieving information in the brain.

Also honored by the Gairdner Foundation for their work on ion channels are Bertil Hille, PhD, of the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle, and Roderick MacKinnon, MD, of Rockefeller University and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in New York City.

Marc Kirshner, PhD, of Harvard University Medical School, is also honored this year for his work on microtubules.

Armstrong is a graduate of Rice University. He received his medical degree from Washington University. He was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize in 1996, and the Lasker Award in 1999. As well as serving as a Professor of Physiology at Penn, he is a member of the Neurosciences Graduate Group. He belongs to the National Academy of Sciences, the Biophysical Society, and the Society of General Physiologists.

Armstrong will be honored along with the other Gairdner award recipients at a reception by the Foundation in Toronto in October.


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