Dr. John Charles Polanyi (right) and John Milloy (middle), minister of training, colleges and universities, presented Dr. Aristotle Voineskos with the Polanyi Prize, which celebrates the 25th anniversary this year.

Polanyi Prizes celebrate 25th anniversary

Three out of five recipients are from Toronto

Three Toronto researchers were among the five recipients of the 2012 Polanyi Prizes during a ceremony at Massey College Friday night, marking the 25th anniversary of the prestigious Ontario research award.

Dr. Aristotle Voineskos and Dr. Darren Yuen were recognized for their contributions in the field of physiology and medicine, and Dr. Alex Hayat for physics. All three researchers are from the University of Toronto.

Voineskos, a psychiatrist and scientist at the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and an assistant professor at U of T, leads the study that combines brain imaging and genetics to identify brain structures that put people at risk for severe mental illness.

Unlike other researches that rely exclusively on the approach of neuro-imaging or genetics, Voineskos said his research is multi-modal.

“Our approach combines these two areas and we think the combination may be in certain cases more powerful,” he said, adding that the research focuses on schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s disease, among other mental illness.

“The research [aims] to improve the life of people with these disorders either by improving their symptoms or delaying or preventing onset illness.”

Voineskos said mental illness issues still carry stigma, but the outreach effort by hospitals and research centres has improved the situation significantly.

“It’s important for our research discovery to get out there and, ultimately, it’s important to make the link between the work we are doing and public policy.”

The Polanyi Prizes were created by the Ontario government in 1987 to honour John Charles Polanyi, a 1986 Nobel Laureate in chemistry.

Polanyi, now 83, presented the prizes to the recipients.

“… I think [the prize] is a wonderful idea to recognize people who are just launching themselves on a career which clearly carries a distinction,” Polanyi told the audience, including family members and colleagues of the winners.

Dr. Tao Zeng of the University of Waterloo received the Polanyi Prize in chemistry and Dr. Jennifer Esmail of Wilfrid Laurier University is the winner in literature.

The winners were selected by a panel appointed by the Ontario Council on Graduate Studies and will receive $20,000 each.