Researchers win innovation awards

Nov 03, 2005, vol. 34, no. 6
By Erica Branda

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SFU researchers took home two of the seven awards presented at the B.C. Innovation Council awards ceremony in September.

SFU not only won more awards than any other organization, it also won those that most directly acknowledge academic research success.

Mario Pinto, professor of chemistry and VP-research, received the frontiers-in-research award, which recognizes innovative research that has led to major new advances in scientific or technological knowledge.

Pinto is known for his energy, his vision and his ability to work at the interface of a number of disciplines to not only model, synthesize and analyze the properties of complex biological molecules, but also to turn them into drugs and vaccines for bacterial pathogens.

In addition to fulfilling the many demands placed on him as VP-research, Pinto leads a successful research group with expertise in everything from theoretical modelling, advanced analytical techniques, chemical synthesis and immunology through to the design of drug and vaccine candidates and their evaluation in animal models.

This multidisciplinary approach has allowed him to apply his groundbreaking work in molecular mimicry to the development of promising drug candidates for the treatment of Type 2 diabetes, spreading cancers, HIV and other viral infections, and for the control of hormone and cholesterol levels. These new therapies employ synthetic molecules that mimic natural ones and act as triggers or inhibitors of natural biological phenomena.

Pinto has recently formed partnerships with Baxter Healthcare and Bioveris Corporation to develop and test vaccine candidates.

He is also the chief scientific officer for Mimos Therapeutics Inc., an SFU spinoff company formed to capitalize on his research into the nature and origin of carbohydrate mimicry for the purpose of drug and vaccine design.

Pinto was elected to the academy of science of the Royal Society of Canada in 2003.

Jian Pei, assistant professor in computing science, received the young innovator award, which recognizes the significant research contributions of someone under the age of 35.

At age 35, Pei, an SFU graduate, is already one of the world's most cited researchers in the area of data mining and knowledge discovery. His methods for database analysis and management are efficient, scalable and fast - 10 to 100 times faster than other currently available alternatives.

Through ongoing research collaborations with several large corporations including IBM, Hewlett-Packard, London Drugs and Boeing, Pei has been able to remain at the forefront of his field, applying his expertise to new and industrially relevant problems.

Current research is aimed at developing trustworthy indexing and search methods to ensure that database query results are complete, unbiased and tamper-proof.

He is also involved in developing new data mining techniques for the bioinformatics industry.

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