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Canadian neurosurgeon wins the 2019 Ryman Prize

Written by Ryman Prize Foundation
on October 04, 2019


Dr Michael Fehlings has won the 2019 Ryman Prize in recognition of his long career dedicated to helping older people suffering from debilitating spinal problems.

Dr Fehlings was presented with the prize by the Right Honourable Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand, at a special ceremony in Auckland today.

The Ryman Prize is an annual $250,000 international award for the best work carried out anywhere in the world that has enhanced quality of life for older people. It is the richest prize of its kind in the world.

The Toronto neurosurgeon was chosen from a strong field of contenders for the 2019 prize by an international jury.

The jury singled Dr Fehlings out for his pioneering work for older people suffering from Degenerative Cervical Myelopathy (DCM), a degenerative neck compression problem which is the most common form of injury to the spinal cord.

“Dr Michael Fehlings is a neurosurgeon, a researcher and a teacher who has had an amazing impact on patients with degenerative spinal conditions. He has dedicated his long career to their care and to research into alternative ways of treating debilitating problems which can have a profoundly negative impact on the lives of older people,” Prime Minister Ardern said.

“There can be no doubt that his research and his teaching has made a difference in improving the quality of life for many and I want to personally congratulate Professor Fehlings for that.”

The Prime Minister also thanked the Board of Ryman for establishing the Ryman Prize.

“It supports some of the world’s most important innovations, research and initiatives that are literally changing people’s lives,” she said.

“I think it is a real boost to people who are working hard to improve the wellbeing of older people.”

DCM symptoms generally begin in patients over 50 and the condition is estimated to affect one in 10 people. Little is known about how best to manage the condition, and its symptoms are often mistaken for other problems.

Patients report neurological symptoms such as pain and numbness in limbs, poor coordination, imbalance, and bladder problems resulting in loss of independence and in many cases, confinement to a wheelchair.

As well as working on treatment and management of DCM, Dr Fehlings has worked tirelessly to raise awareness of the condition within the medical profession.

“It is a great honour for me to receive the Ryman Prize. It recognises my team’s translational research to enhance the care of individuals with degenerative cervical myelopathy, the most common cause of spinal cord impairment in adults worldwide,’’ Dr Fehlings said.

“I wish to recognise my colleagues, students, mentors, patients as well as my supporters and family.’’

Dr Fehlings is Co-Director of the Spinal Program and a Professor of Neurosurgery at the University of Toronto and a Clinician-Scientist in the Krembil Brain Institute, Toronto Western Hospital.

About the Ryman Prize:

The Ryman Prize is administered by the Ryman Foundation. The annual prize consists of a $250,000 grant which is awarded by an international jury to the best invention, idea, research concept or initiative that has enhanced quality of life for older people.

It is the world’s richest prize of its type and was established to create the equivalent of a Nobel Prize for people working in the field of the health of older people.

The prize was launched in 2015 and the inaugural prize was won by Gabi Hollows, the founding director of The Fred Hollows Foundation.

Gabi Hollows set up the charity with her late husband Professor Fred Hollows, and together they worked tirelessly to tackle the problem of preventable blindness in the developing world.

The 2016 prize was won by Professor Henry Brodaty. Professor Brodaty is a pioneer in diagnosis and treatment of Alzheimer’s and dementia and his influence has been felt around the world.

The 2017 Ryman Prize was won by Professor Peter St George-Hyslop, a geneticist and researcher based at Cambridge and the University of Toronto. Peter has spent 30 years researching neuro-degenerative diseases, focusing on discovering the key genes and proteins that cause cells to degenerate in diseases such as early onset Alzheimer’s Disease.

Professor Takanori Shibata won the 2018 Ryman Prize for his tenacity in pursing new technology to help ease the burden of older people suffering from dementia.

Professor Shibata pioneered the use of robots and artificial intelligence to create a drug-free therapeutic device for dementia patients.

The Ryman Prize jury includes:

Professor Brian Draper, Conjoint Professor in the School of Psychiatry at the University of New South Wales.

Professor Sarah Harper CBE, Director of the Oxford Institute of Population Ageing.
Professor Tim Wilkinson, consulting geriatrician and Associate Dean of Medical Education, Otago School of Medicine.

Dr Naoko Muramatsu, health and ageing research specialist, University of Illinois at Chicago.

Professor Erwin Neher, Nobel Laureate and Professor at the University of Göttingen, Germany. Dr Neher is a biophysicist who won the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1991.
Dr David Kerr, Ryman Healthcare Chairman, Fellow and Past President of the New Zealand Medical Association, Fellow with Distinction of the Royal New Zealand College of General Practitioners.

Media advisory:

For interviews or further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Ryman Prize director David King on 03 366 4069 (00643 3664069) or 021 499 602 (006421 499 6902)

About Ryman Healthcare:

Ryman was founded in 1984 and has become one of New Zealand’s largest listed companies. The company owns and operates 45 retirement villages in New Zealand and Australia which are home to more than 13,900 residents and the company employs 6,800 team members.

Media advisory: For further information, photos, interviews or comment please contact Group Corporate Affairs Manager Silke Marsh on +64 27 294 3609 or Communications Advisor Maryvonne Gray on 027 552 0767.

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