From L-R: Dr. Ali Rajput, Dr. Anil Kumar, and Dr. Christopher Phenix. (Photos: Submitted)

Internationally recognized Parkinson’s disease researcher honoured with Achievement Award

The Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation (SHRF) announced the winners of the 18th annual Santé Awards to celebrate top health scientists in the province.

Achievement Award

Dr. Ali Rajput, an internationally recognized leader in Parkinson’s disease research from the University of Saskatchewan (USask), was honoured with an Achievement Award from the Saskatchewan Health Research Foundation. The award was one of seven awards recognizing research impact and excellence from within Saskatchewan’s health research community.

For over five decades, Dr. Rajput has contributed to research and clinical innovation while showing foresight and leadership through his observation, curiosity and focus on providing the best care for his patients.

In response to the discovery and early implementation of the medication levodopa for Parkinson’s disease, Rajput established the Saskatchewan Movement Disorders Program in 1968. This not only provided Saskatchewan patients with access to the medication but became the basis for his significant research productivity and continued improvements in patient care.

His leadership resulted in the creation of a brain biobank that will continue to shape the research landscape for years to come and his mentorship and collaborations from across disciplines has inspired many others down a combined path of clinical practice and research.

Though his expertise has been sought after at the national and international level, his continued dedication to Saskatchewan patients and the community led to him becoming a founding member of the Saskatchewan Parkinson’s Foundation. His quest for answers and commitment to his patients will become his legacy and is at the core of why he was presented with this year’s Achievement Award that recognizes exemplary career achievements and inspiring drive, leadership and ingenuity.

Early Career Impact Award

Dr. Chris Phenix from the USask College of Arts and Science was presented with an Early Career Impact Award. This award is presented to one researcher for their work since being awarded a SHRF Establishment Grant five years earlier. It recognizes their efforts to build capacity, advance knowledge, inform decision making, and to provide health, economic and social impacts, as well as future potential to continue their impact in Saskatchewan.

Phenix and his team are working to develop radiotracers to detect Parkinson’s disease, a chronic degenerative brain disorder that affects more than 100,000 Canadians. The radiotracers are chemical compounds that have been labeled for easy detection, such as with PET scans, and that selectively attach to a specific protein in the body. This work looks at radiotracers for an enzyme called glucocerebrosidase, or GCase, that shows decreased activity in the brains of Parkinson’s patients. Currently, there are no radiotracers available to image GCase in patients, and the radiotracers could be used both to diagnose Parkinson’s, particularly in people with aggressive cases, and to help develop new drugs for the disease. This groundbreaking work has garnered $150,000 (USD) in funding from the extremely competitive Michael J. Fox Foundation, drawn interest from multinational drug companies, and attracted collaborators and clinicians from across the country.

Excellence Awards

Excellence Awards were presented to the top-ranked researchers and teams that received SHRF funding for their projects in the past year.

The USask awardee is Dr. Anil Kumar of the USask College of Medicine, who is being recognized for having the top-ranked SHRF Establishment Grant project in the biomedical category.

With these awards and other activities throughout the year, we celebrate the impact of the work that is helping improve the health of Saskatchewan citizens, creating a high-performing health ecosystem and building a robust culture of research and innovation. 

Visit shrf.ca/sante-awards to see a full list of award recipients and stories about the impact of their work.

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