VICTORIA - B.C.'s future forests will include super-trees that can shrug off attacks by pests like the mountain pine beetle - or are remarkably efficient at sequestering carbon, reducing CO2 in the atmosphere.
People here and elsewhere will use a simple screening test to detect diabetes waiting to happen, so it can be prevented - and another to easily pinpoint which of many underlying conditions is causing a patient's high blood pressure, so it can be treated successfully.
There's a link between these four projects: Christoph Borchers, one of the world's top proteomics researchers. Borchers' appointment as the Don and Eleanor Rix B.C. Leadership Chair in Biomedical and Environmental Proteomics at the University of Victoria was announced today by Pat Bell, Minister Responsible for Jobs, Tourism and Innovation.
Proteomics is the study of the structure and functions of proteins. It can be used in every area of biochemical research. Borchers, director of the UVic Genome BC Proteomics Centre at the Vancouver Island Technology Park, is focusing on health and forestry in his LEEF chair role.
The chair comes with an endowment of $4.5 million - $2.25 million donated by the Rix Family Foundation established by Dr. Donald Rix, a leading physician, entrepreneur and philanthropist, who passed away in 2009. The Province provided the other $2.25 million from its Leading Edge Endowment Fund.
Since arriving in B.C. five years ago, Borchers has created a spinoff company, MRM Proteomics, with a business developer who attracts industry clients from all over the world to use the Proteomics Centre's services. This has helped Borchers create 18 jobs, more than tripling the staff at the centre. He intends to hire more top researchers, leveraging the LEEF chair funding that pays his own salary.
Borchers, who earned his three degrees at the University of Konstanz in Germany, is president of the Canadian National Proteomics Network. He is working on Canada's role in the upcoming Human Proteome Project - a far bigger task than the international Human Genome Project, which took 13 years to complete.
- A proteome consists of the proteins - enzymes, antibodies and molecules - that make up the cells of living things.
- There are an estimated one million proteins in the human proteome - compared with roughly 25,000 genes in the human genome.
- The main tool used by proteomics researchers is the mass spectrometer, which identifies proteins by their molecular weight, and can cost upwards of $1.5 million.
Leading Edge Endowment Fund: www.leefbc.ca
University of Victoria Genome BC Proteomics Centre: www.proteincentre.com
Dr. Donald Rix biography: www.therixcenter.com/about/about-dr-don-rix
Government of B.C. Research and Innovation: www.tted.gov.bc.ca/tri/research
Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation
University of Victoria
University of Victoria
Leading Edge Endowment Fund
Don and Eleanor Rix B.C. Leadership Chair in Biomedical and Environmental Proteomics
What is proteomics?
Just as genomics is the study of all the genetic material in a plant or animal, proteomics is the study of all the proteins - antibodies, enzymes and structural molecules - directed by the genes to keep cells functioning and healthy.
The genome is a relatively static array of instructions for creating proteins and telling them what to do. But the proteome is a dynamic entity that at any given moment in time reflects the environment a cell is in.
There are an estimated one million proteins in the human proteome. Some are needed for routine cell functions. Others are critical to special processes such as cell division. The role of many others is unknown.
Proteins can occur in different locations within the body at different stages in a person's life and can change within a single cell. Some are abundant. Others - the ones most often associated with disease - exist in tiny amounts.
Proteomics research is applicable to just about every area of biochemical investigation including health, agriculture, fisheries and forestry. In medicine, it is fundamental to the development of new diagnostic tests and drugs to detect and treat diseases such as cancer.
What is the chair's research program?
The chair program will support a research and training program in proteomics at the University of Victoria, primarily through the UVic-Genome BC Proteomics Centre (see below). It will combine technology development, applications to biomedical and environmental sciences, and commercialization through spinoff companies and industry partnerships.
Biomedical applications include the design and development of new and improved drugs for the treatment of diseases such as AIDS and Creutzfeld-Jakob's disease, and the development of new proteomics-based diagnostic tests for the early detection of cancers and conditions such as diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
Environmental applications include forestry (including boosting the resistance of trees to attack by mountain pine beetle); wildlife toxicology (such as the use of frogs as living biosensors for environmental health); alternative fuels (including improved processes for extraction of fuel-grade ethanol from trees); and climate change (improving a tree's ability to store atmospheric carbon dioxide).
Who is Christoph Borchers?
Dr. Christoph Borchers is a leading protein chemist and a pioneer in proteomics research. He has been director of the UVic-Genome BC Proteomics Centre since 2005. Prior to joining UVic, he headed the UNC-Duke Proteomics Facility at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
For his PhD at the University of Konstanz in Germany, Borchers investigated the use of mass spectrometry to analyze proteins, a technique that was greeted with skepticism by the scientific community. Today, the use of mass spectrometry to study proteins is routine.
Borchers' own research focuses on biomedical applications and the development of diagnostic tools. He is president of the Canadian National Proteomics Network and scientific director of the BC Proteomics Network, which promote proteomics education, research and training in Canada and B.C.
What is the UVic-Genome BC Proteomics Centre?
Located at UVic's Vancouver Island Technology Park near Victoria, the UVic-Genome BC Proteomics Centre is a world-class facility used by regional, national and international academic and industry researchers. It is also a national proteomics platform for large-scale research projects funded by Genome Canada and the Canadian government.
With equipment valued at more than $8 million and highly trained staff, the centre provides modern mass spectrometry, separation sciences, bioinformatics, information technology and project management.
Mass spectrometers are powerful instruments that can identify a protein or part of a protein by its molecular weight. They are so accurate they can measure the mass of a proton or less. The centre has the highest concentration of mass spectrometers at any Canadian university and one of the highest in North America.
The centre's research program focuses on the use of proteomics tools and technologies in the life sciences, including agriculture, fisheries, forestry, and human and environmental health.
The centre's research partners include scientists-especially biologists and clinicians-in universities, hospitals, government labs and industry in areas with potentially significant benefits to B.C. and Canada.
The centre is funded by provincial, national and international funding agencies, including Genome Canada and Genome BC, the National Institutes of Health, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Western Economic Diversification Canada, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the B.C. Knowledge Development Fund and UVic.
Who is Don Rix?
Dr. Donald Rix was a medical doctor, chairman of LifeLabs Diagnostics Inc., with over 80 laboratories provincewide. He was also chairman of Cantest Ltd., an environmental and industrial testing lab he acquired in 1974 and built into one of Canada's leading analytical laboratories. Both of Rix's organizations had part of their business plans dedicated to giving back to the community, contributing through both donations and volunteerism.
He was awarded the Order of British Columbia for outstanding achievement in 2004, and in 2007, was inducted as a member of the Order of Canada, and had honorary degrees from five universities, including the University of Victoria. Rix, his companies and his family foundation have provided funding for two LEEF chairs to date, as well as $500,000 for Rix Student Awards to be shared among all the LEEF chairs to help recruit the best and brightest graduate students to their research teams.
Rix died in 2009. His wife, Eleanor, predeceased him in 2007. Their daughter, Laurie Rix Macrae, chairs the Rix Family Foundation.
What is the Leading Edge Endowment Fund, and what is a B.C. leadership chair?
The Province of British Columbia has invested more than $1.8 billion in research and innovation in the past decade. This includes $56.25 million to establish 29 permanent research chairs under the Leading Edge Endowment Fund - some of the best-funded research chairs in Canada. Post-secondary institutions and external partners provide matching funding.
LEEF attracts world-class researchers to B.C., promotes economic growth and job creation, strengthens the province's position as a centre of excellence in research, matches government funding with money from the private sector and individual donors, and promotes the unique roles that B.C. universities and colleges play in innovation in British Columbia.
Two types of chairs are funded by LEEF endowments: B.C. leadership chairs at the province's four research-intensive universities to further medical, social, environmental and technological research; and regional innovation chairs to create opportunities in communities through B.C.'s colleges, institutes and teaching-focused universities.
University of Victoria
250 721-7641 Marisa Adair
Ministry of Jobs, Tourism and Innovation