A professor at the University of Manitoba and the Children's Hospital Research Institute of Manitoba has been awarded for her "innovative research on human breast milk and the infant microbiome."

Dr. Meghan Azad was named the 2024 recipient of the Canada Gairdner Award earlier this week. The award "recognizes some of the world’s most significant biomedical and global health research discoveries."

“I am deeply honoured to receive this award to highlight the foundational impacts of breast milk in early childhood nutrition and the developmental origins of chronic diseases,” said Azad. “Although this award is presented to an individual, I would like to recognize the many colleagues, mentors and trainees I have had the privilege of working alongside and thank them for their many contributions to this research.”

Azad is a professor of pediatrics and child health at Max Rady College of Medicine in the Rady Faculty of Health Sciences and a researcher with CHRIM.

Azad is a native Winnipegger and earned her PhD in biochemistry and medical genetics at UM. She holds a Canada Research Chair in developmental origins of chronic disease. She directs the THRiVE Discovery Lab , co-directs the Manitoba Interdisciplinary Lactation Centre and leads the International Milk Composition Consortium.

“This is a tremendous achievement for Dr. Azad and the entire university,” said Dr. Mario Pinto, UM vice president (Research and International). “We are honoured that she has selected UM as her home, and we continue to celebrate her career milestones together. This award is a testament to the impact of her research, which is helping to improve maternal and child health outcomes in Canada and around the world.”

The UM says in a release that "Her groundbreaking work is pushing the boundaries of knowledge in the areas of infant nutrition, maternal-child health and the developmental origins of disease."

“We are thrilled to see Dr. Azad recognized at this level for her hard work and dedication to improving maternal and child health outcomes," said Nichola Wigle, CHRIM acting chief operating officer. “CHRIM is proud to provide resources for a dynamic collaborative research environment for researchers like Dr. Azad that support new knowledge creation with impact.”

Studying more than 3,000 children, Azad’s team has shown that longer and more exclusive breastfeeding is associated with reduced risk of asthma and healthier body composition. Their research has earned widespread attention from key decision-makers and organizations such as the World Health Organization, World Vision and the Public Health Agency of Canada.