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SFU researcher wins Steacie fellowship

February 24, 2011

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SFU chemistry professor David Vocadlo is one of six scientists named 2011 E.W.R. Steacie Memorial Fellows this month, with each receiving a $250,000 grant over two years from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC).

Vocadlo’s research in the emerging field of glycobiology, which deals with the structure and function of molecules that contain carbohydrates, could lead to new treatments for cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

His team’s work centres on understanding and manipulating enzymes that assemble and break down the complex carbohydrate structures known as glycoconjugates in cells and cell surfaces.

“My lab is developing new chemical tools that enable researchers to study these specialized sugars so that we can monitor and manipulate their levels in cells and decode why they are important,” says Vocadlo.

“By knowing how these sugars are involved in disease and health, and then being able to influence their levels, we might be able to uncover new therapeutic approaches.”

Vocadlo’s group is also providing new insights into how glycoconjugates could play a role in Alzheimer’s disease.

“The fellowship will allow me to focus on research, to reflect and think creatively about how these sugars are exerting effects on cells, and also to develop the new tools that will allow us to test these new ideas in the broad area of glycoscience and glycobiology.”

Vocadlo’s researchers are also working to create compounds that block antibiotic-resistant bacteria from sensing and resisting the effects of certain antibiotics.

“My longer term expectation is that our research will contribute to improvements in human health. The major broad areas we are interested in now are antibiotic resistance and neurodegeneration,” says Vocadlo. “I hope to see the research lead to practical applications in the not-too-distant future.”

The fellowship is named after Edgar William Richard Steacie, a Canadian physical chemist and president of the National Research Council of Canada from 1952 until his death in 1962.

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