Fiona Brinkman

Research-star mom garners more funding

August 14, 2007

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By Carol Thorbes

Even with two small children to care for, Fiona Brinkman continues to snag prestigious and lucrative research awards for breaking new ground in bioinformatics.

The SFU microbiologist recently added close to $1 million to her already multi-million dollar research treasure chest. This time, the funding includes a Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research (MSFHR) Senior Scholar award and a Fisher Scientific Award from the Canadian Society of Microbiologists.

Brinkman is only the second woman to receive the Fisher award. And while its monetary value ($1,500) doesn’t compare to that of her MSFHR award ($100,000 annually for five years) its research value is significant.
“This award is particularly meaningful for me because it reflects the society’s acknowledgement of the significance of bioinformatics in microbiology,” says Brinkman.

Since bursting onto the research scene at SFU as an up-and-coming bioinformatics expert six years ago Brinkman has scored at least eight major national and international awards.

They acknowledge and help fund her development of revolutionary new ways to data-mine biological and molecular information about bacteria, such as the internationally acclaimed PSORT program. The software is now the world’s most precise method of identifying cell surface and secreted proteins on bacteria that make the best targets for new vaccines and infection-combating drugs.

Brinkman’s MSFHR grant will enable her to spend more time on her research, which includes gaining insight into how bacterial pathogens evolve.

Brinkman is also one of two leaders of the recently funded Bioinformatics for Combating Infectious Diseases (BCID) project, a multi-disciplinary undertaking that has secured Community Trust Endowment funding at SFU. Involving 12 researchers from disciplines including physics, chemistry and biology, Brinkman’s and computing scientist Cenk Sahinalp’s BCID team is investigating ways to improve the accuracy of bioinformatics methods for identifying anti-infection drug targets.

As for how she juggles four major research projects while raising four-year-old Ewan and one-year-old Elise, Brinkman says “I have a great support network at home and at work. I have to be good at organizing my time and I benefit from, and really enjoy, bringing people from different disciplines together.”
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