VANCOUVER, BC (August 30, 2011) -- LifeLabs today announced that its $2 million endowment in the Dr. Donald B. Rix Research Chair will fund research into neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s. The announcement comes with the appointment of Dr. Matthew Farrer as the Dr. Donald Rix BC Leadership Chair in Genetic Medicine at the University of British Columbia (UBC).

The chair is also supported by $2.25 million from the Province of British Columbia through its Leading Edge Endowment Fund (LEEF), $2 million from LifeLabs and $250,000 from the Genome British Columbia Foundation. Dr. Farrer and his research team will be based at the Department of Medical Genetics at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine and the Brain Research Centre (BRC) at UBC and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute.

The chair was announced today by Dr. Moira Stilwell, Parliamentary Secretary for Industry, Research and Innovation, at the Performing Arts Lodge, a community theatre venue where the Parkinson Society of B.C. holds one of its monthly patient support groups. She was joined by John Hepburn, UBC Vice President Research and International, Mark Murphy, Director of LifeLabs, Alan Winter, President of Genome BC Foundation, and Jim Smerdon, who was diagnosed with early-onset Parkinson’s four years ago.

Previously, LifeLabs and Genome BC announced the creation of the Dr. Rix Chair in Genetic Diagnostics to honour one of the founders and former owners of LifeLabs in BC (formerly called MDS Metro Laboratory Services). Among his many business and community service interests, Dr. Rix was a founding director of Genome BC and served as its board chair for four years. Founded in 2000, Genome BC is a research organization that invests in and manages large-scale genomics and proteomic research projects.

“We are delighted that this research chair has been named in honour of Don in recognition of his many years of leadership in British Columbia’s medical research sectors,” said Mark Murphy, Director of LifeLabs. “The decision to support Dr. Farrer’s research into neurogenetics through this Chair made perfect sense for LifeLabs. LifeLabs conducts over 50 million diagnostic tests annually that help with the early detection and prevention of disease. We hope our support of Dr. Farrer will help reduce the burden that neurodegenerative diseases have on our health-care system and, most importantly, on families,” added Murphy.

Dr. Farrer will lead a research team in studying the molecular origins of brain diseases using new genetic and computing technologies with the objective to improve detection and disease prevention in the population.

“British Columbia has one of the most concentrated and high-calibre cluster of brain and neuroscience researchers, and one of the most robust biotech industries in the world,” says Farrer, who also holds the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Neurogenetics and Translational Neuroscience at UBC. “This synergy provides the perfect environment for me and my team to make fundamental genetic discoveries and translate them into treatments that will improve the quality of life for patients suffering from neurodegenerative diseases and that of their families.”

In addition to collaborating with researchers at UBC and BRC, Farrer will also work with scientists at the Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics (CMMT). Led by Dr. Michael Hayden, CMMT played an instrumental role in the recruitment of the Chair.

“The LEEF Chair came to fruition as a result of CMMT and UBC’s invaluable partnership with Genome BC and LifeLabs,” said CMMT Director Dr. Michael Hayden. “The award in Don Rix’s name in Genetic Medicine is particularly significant as it recognizes Don’s visionary leadership and commitment to the translation of genetic knowledge to society. Don was a wonderful mentor, friend, and an inspiration to me and countless others.”

“Genome BC is pleased to be able to bring together private industry, academia and government to harness new opportunities for health research,” said Alan Winter, President of Genome BC Foundation. “The appointment of Dr. Farrer to the Dr. Donald Rix BC Leadership Chair in Genetic Medicine will allow us to continue to build upon the great foundation in brain research in B.C. and contribute to new and improved treatments for patients everywhere.”


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Lisa Rostoks, Communications Manager, LifeLabs, 1-800-268-0902,




About Dr. Matthew Farrer

An expert in the field of molecular genetics, Dr. Matthew Farrer has made several influential discoveries in neurogenetics and is critically acclaimed for his work on the genetics of Parkinson’s disease, including identifying the three most important genetic risk factors for the debilitating disease.

In May 2010, Farrer was appointed as the Canada Excellence Research Chair Neurogenetics and Translational Neuroscience at UBC, one of only 19 world-class researchers to be named in the inaugural federal research program. Prior to that, Farrer was a Professor of Molecular Neuroscience and Director of the Neurogenetics Division at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida. At the Clinic, he worked on finding innovative new treatments for patients suffering from neurologic diseases by refining diagnoses and identifying biomarkers of early and progressive disease.

In 2008, Farrer was named Mayo Clinic Distinguished Investigator, the prestigious institution’s highest award for research excellence. He has studied patient populations and families world-wide and his molecular insights have led to model systems that are helping to define the biologic processes perturbed by genetic mutations, and have laid the foundation for new and effective therapies.

Farrer’s research has been funded by the U.S. National Institute of Aging, the Pacific Alzheimer’s Research Foundation and the Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research. He is a member of the Michael J. Fox Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Board.

Farrer holds a PhD in Human Genetics from Imperial College London and a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from King’s College London in the UK. He was also a postdoctoral fellow in medical and community genetics at St. Mark’s National Health Service Trust, UK.

His current research interests are neurodegenerative disorders, with a focus on the molecular genetics and functional modelling of movement disorders, including Parkinson’s disease and Lewy body dementia.

Genome British Columbia is a catalyst for the life sciences cluster on Canada’s West Coast, and manages a cumulative portfolio of over $450M in technology platforms and research projects. Working with governments, academia and industry across sectors such as forestry, fisheries, agriculture, environment, bioenergy, mining and human health, the goal of the organization is to generate social and economic benefits for British Columbia and Canada. The Genome BC Foundation was established to support the expansion and enhancement of life sciences education in the province.

LifeLabs Medical Laboratory Services provides laboratory testing services, which help healthcare providers diagnose, treat, monitor and prevent disease in patients. LifeLabs employs more than 3000 professionally trained staff, who deliver more than 50 million laboratory tests annually to over 10 million patients and nearly 20,000 physician customers. LifeLabs has operated in Canada for nearly 50 years. In communities across British Columbia, LifeLabs provides a full range of diagnostic testing services supported by an extensive network of collection, transportation, information technology, and analytical and consultative expertise. Every day more than 11,000 patients visit one of LifeLabs’ 80 service centres across the province. LifeLabs also provides services to more than 500 patients at home and in long-term care facilities in BC.  LifeLabs is owned by Borealis Infrastructure, a global leader in infrastructure investing, with assets in energy, transportation and infrastructure buildings, including long-term care facilities and hospitals, pipelines and telecommunications. For more information, visit

The Brain Research Centre comprises more than 250 investigators with multidisciplinary expertise in neuroscience research ranging from the test tube, to the bedside, to industrial spin-offs. The Centre is a partnership of the UBC Faculty of Medicine and VCH Research Institute

The Centre for Molecular Medicine and Therapeutics is a synergistic group of scientists and researchers who share a strong sense of commitment to solve the many genetic questions surrounding human illness and well being. Affiliated with the University of British Columbia and the Child & Family Research Institute, CMMT conducts discovery research and translates that research into effective clinical and therapeutic strategies to promote health. For more information, visit

The UBC Faculty of Medicine provides innovative programs in the health and life sciences, teaching students at the undergraduate, graduate and postgraduate levels. Its faculty members received $295 million in research funds, 54 percent of UBC’s total research revenues, in 2010-11. For more information, visit

Learn More:

Leading Edge Endowment Fund:

Genome BC:

Brain Research Centre:

UBC Faculty of Medicine:

Parkinson’s Pacific Research Centre:

Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute:


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