Two of Canada's most eminent health researchers Dr. Jacques Genest at McGill University and Dr. Michael Hayden at the University of British Columbia have been awarded the inaugural Margolese National Brain and Heart Disorders Prizes, the most lucrative prizes bestowed by UBC.

The two prizes were created by an estate gift to UBC by Leonard Hubert Margolese to recognize Canadians who have made outstanding contributions to the treatment, amelioration or cure of brain or heart disorders. Margolese, who died in 2000, was a Vancouver businessman who had a heart condition and whose brother had Alzheimer's disease.

The prizes, each of which includes a $50,000 grant, will be awarded annually with the expectation that the recipients will continue their outstanding research focused on improving the lives of individuals with brain or heart disease. Genest and Hayden will be honoured at a banquet in the fall.

Candidates were nominated by experts in each field, and were initially evaluated by an impact review panel that included scientists from Harvard University, the University of California at Los Angeles, the University of Oxford and the University of Calgary. The panel's recommendations were then forwarded to a selection committee that included several members of the UBC Faculty of Medicine including Dr. Gavin Stuart, Dean and Vice Provost Health as well as two community members.

Genest, winner of the Margolese National Heart Disorders Prize, is a professor of medicine and director of the Centre for Innovative Medicine at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre. He has focused on cardiovascular risk factors, the genetics of coronary artery disease and the formation of high-density lipoproteins (HDL). His research has led to insights into the genesis of HDL.

For the past 15 years, Genest has participated in the development of Canada's cholesterol guidelines. For the past decade, he was head of cardiology at McGill University and prior to this, directed the Cardiovascular Genetics Laboratory at the Clinical Research Institute of Montreal. Today, he holds the McGill/Novartis Chair in Medicine at McGill. The impact review panel described Genest as being "in the prime of his career."

"In addition to everything Dr. Genest has already accomplished, it was his potential for a continuing future impact on the genetics and metabolism of HDL cholesterol that was most impressive," said Alison Buchan, Vice Dean, Research and International Relations at the University of Toronto's Faculty of Medicine, chair of the impact review panel and former Executive Associate Dean, Research, in the UBC Faculty of Medicine.

Hayden, winner of the Margolese National Brain Disorders Prize, is a Killam professor in UBC's Department of Medical Genetics and director and senior scientist at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics at the Child & Family Research Institute.

Hayden has worked to understand the genetic cause of illness in search of better treatments for neurodegenerative disorders, especially Huntington disease (HD), which causes uncontrolled movements, loss of intellectual faculties, and emotional disturbance. He is the world's most-cited author on HD, with over 600 peer-reviewed publications and invited submissions. He developed a predictive genetic test for the condition, which is now the standard of care worldwide.

Hayden is also co-founder of three national research networks, including the Canadian Collaborative Network for Huntington's Disease.

"Dr. Hayden's seminal discoveries, the translational aspect of his work, and his prolific research have established him as one of the world's leading authorities on Huntington disease," Buchan said. "He shows no signs of letting up in unraveling the mechanisms of Huntington disease, as well as applying his insights to other neurodegenerative conditions, such as Alzheimer's disease."

This is Hayden's third national scientific award to be announced during the past month. In March, he was named the winner of the Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, and earlier this week, the Canadian Council for the Arts gave him the 2011 Killam Prize in health sciences. (The Margolese Prizes' rules allow a UBC faculty member to be selected only once every six years.)