Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)

Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)

January 31, 2007 09:00 ET

NSERC: Prize-Winning Team Unlocks Secrets of Viruses and other Biomolecules

University of Manitoba and MDS Sciex researchers go beyond gene sequencing to analyse the proteins that make cells tick

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA--(CCNMatthews - Jan. 31, 2007) - Suzanne Fortier, President of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC), today announced that a team of researchers based at the University of Manitoba, along with their collaborators at MDS Sciex and Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, have won the third annual Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering. The prize includes $250,000 in funding for future research activities.

Members of the team have spent more than a decade refining proteomics techniques that can be applied to a wide range of problems in medicine and biology. One of their greatest successes came in 2003 when team members, led by Kenneth Standing, were the first worldwide to determine the structure of the protein component of the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) virus. Along the way, the team has also developed patented improvements to their key tool, the mass spectrometer.

While genes provide a blueprint, proteins actually carry out the cell's work. Because proteins are so numerous, analysing them is a far more complex process than sequencing a genome.

In addition to Kenneth Standing, the University of Manitoba researchers being honoured with the Brockhouse Prize include chemists Harry Duckworth and Helene Perreault, physicists Werner Ens and Oleg Krokhin, and cell biologist John Wilkins. Other members of the winning team are Steve Haber, a plant virologist at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, and MDS Sciex scientists Igor Chernushevich, Alexandre Loboda and Bruce Thomson.

The involvement of MDS Sciex, a world leader in the design and manufacturing of mass spectrometers, has enabled some of the team's innovations to be incorporated into equipment that is used by researchers around the world.

"This year's winners form a 'virtuous circle' where academic researchers and private sector engineers collaborate to develop the leading-edge equipment needed for new discoveries," said Dr. Fortier. "I'm especially impressed to see the team combine such a wide variety of disciplines, including physics, engineering, chemistry and cell biology."

Named after Bertram Brockhouse, the Canadian Prairie-born Nobel laureate, the prize honours teams of researchers that combine different disciplines to produce achievements of international scientific or engineering significance.

NSERC is a federal agency whose role is to make investments in people, discovery and innovation for the benefit of all Canadians. The agency invests in people by supporting some 23,000 university students and postdoctoral fellows in their advanced studies. NSERC promotes discovery by funding more than 11,000 university professors every year. NSERC makes innovation happen by encouraging about 1,300 Canadian companies to invest in university research and training. Over the last 10 years, NSERC has invested more than $6 billion in basic research, university-industry projects, and the training of Canada's next generation of scientists and engineers.

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