Simon Fraser University


Vaccine research leads the way

June 24, 2004 , vol. 30, no. 5

By Carol Thorbes
Research technician Martina Mai (left), Canada Research Chair Jamie Scott (centre) and doctoral student Melita Irving in the department of molecular biology and biochemistry examine an X-ray. Simon Fraser University's fledgling faculty of health sciences now has the funding in place to launch its first research and graduate program.

Some of the funding has come through the appointment of the faculty's first Canada Research Chair - one of four to be established in the new faculty.

As a Canada Research Chair in molecular immunity, Jamie Scott will help the new faculty launch its research program, which complements its master's program in population and public health.

“It is fitting that our first chair appointment is in vaccine research,” says David MacLean.

The former medical health officer and health policy consultant is the architect of SFU's new faculty and the director of its Institute of Health Research and Education.

“Media stories about infectious diseases, such as AIDS, SARS and Avian flu, are daily reminders of an important health fact,” observes MacLean.

“Vaccine research and immunology are key contributors to the development of successful strategies for halting the spread of infectious diseases.”

By appointing scientists, such as Scott, to help develop one of its research foci, SFU's health sciences faculty hopes to make a significant national contribution to improving population health.

Scott, a professor of molecular biology and biochemistry, and a biomedical researcher at SFU, is trying to develop a vaccine against HIV-1, the AIDS virus.

She is internationally known for a groundbreaking research strategy that may lead to more vaccines against newly emerging infectious diseases.
Scott's senior Canada Research Chair, worth $200,000 annually for a renewable seven-year term, will help her solve two key riddles.

Typically, HIV-1 continually mutates to avoid annihilation by antibodies trying to latch on to it, but four human antibodies have been found that can target and neutralize many different HIV-1 variants, rendering them non-infectious.

Scott is using the antibodies to figure out which proteins in a giant library, which she has created, will bind the antibodies to stable, vulnerable sites on HIV-1.

Scott's second major challenge is identifying antibodies with fewer mutations than the four currently known to kill HIV-1.

The fewer the mutations the easier it will be for Scott to develop a vaccine.
Thanks to a $750,000 Canada Foundation for Innovation infrastructure grant accompanying her Canada Research Chair, Scott is acquiring a fluorescence-activated cell sorter.

The high-tech equipment will help her more quickly identify antibodies in HIV-1-infected people and vaccinated animals that may serve as better vaccine targets than the four known antibodies.

Scott's research chair will free up funding at SFU, otherwise used to pay her salary, to hire another vaccine researcher in the faculty of health sciences.

“The hiring of a molecular virologist and eventually a cellular immunologist would round out our complement of vaccine researchers, and enable SFU to make a serious contribution to infectious disease control in Canada,” predicts Scott.

The Canada Research Chair program is a federal initiative designed to build Canada's research capacity.

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation program, another federal initiative, helps chairs acquire research space and equipment.