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Date: November 09, 2004

Disease-Fighting UVic Researchers Given $1 Million

Three researchers from UVic’s department of biochemistry and microbiology will share nearly $1 million in operating research grants from the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR), part of $19 million in research funding for British Columbia announced today in Vancouver. The work conducted by the trio of biochemists ranges from examining cell mutation—the very root of birth defects and disease—to research on a promising new class of antibiotic and identification of proteins that contribute to diseases such as tuberculosis.

“The work by UVic researchers will significantly improve our understanding of the origins of some deadly and devastating diseases,” says Dr. Martin Taylor, UVic’s vice president research. “This funding from CIHR provides researchers with the tools they need for work whose benefits will go far beyond Canada’s borders.”

Dr. Alisdair Boraston receives $407,399 to identify and characterize protein molecules, produced by disease-causing bacteria, that may be involved in the progression of gas gangrene, tuberculosis and illnesses caused by Yersinia enterocolitica (a cousin of Yersinia pestis, the plague bacterium). Boraston is particularly interested in proteins that attach to or hydrolyze sugars, providing the conditions for bacteria-caused infections. A better understanding of this process may help create new medication to treat these infections.

Dr. Claire Cupples receives $292,432 to research how cells repair damage to their DNA. If the damage is not repaired, it leads to mutations which, in humans, contribute to birth defects, cancer and aging. To retaliate, cells have networks of proteins to seek out and repair the damage. Cupples is interested in how these proteins cooperate with each other, how their activity is regulated and how they recognize DNA damage.

Dr. Terry Pearson receives $297,384 to identify which antimicrobial peptides, a new class of antibiotic, are most effective against the parasites that cause African sleeping sickness. These peptides, which fight disease by forming holes in the targeted micro-organisims, excite researchers because of the possibility that they can be used to treat human diseases that are resistant to conventional antibiotics. In Africa, several billion dollars worth of cattle each year succumb to the parasites which also afflict about half a million people in an epidemic that has been raging for the past few years. There is no vaccine for the disease and treating it requires toxic drugs that in themselves can be fatal. Pearson will work in collaboration with Drs. Bob Hancock (UBC), Serap Aksoy (Yale University), Miodrag Belosevic (University of Alberta) and Alan Robinson (Atomic Energy, Vienna).

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Patty Pitts (UVic Communications) at (250) 721-7656 or ppitts@uvic.ca

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