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Past Winner
2011 NSERC Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering

John Klassen

University of Alberta

John Klassen
John Klassen

Amid growing concern that many micro-organisms are becoming resistant to the drugs traditionally used to fight them, The Alberta Carbohydrate Science Group is working to help solve the problem. The five team members are focussing their cross-disciplinary expertise on the function of the glycome—the entirety of a cell’s carbohydrates—to determine the fundamentals of cell communication. Understanding the molecular basis of the "glycocode" is necessary to battle human and animal infections through evidence-based design of vaccines that prevent infections and therapeutics that will neutralize toxins. This will help avoid the selective pressure that drives antibiotic resistance.

The research team—David Bundle, John Klassen and Todd Lowary of the University of Alberta; and Glen Armstrong and Kenneth Ng of the University of Calgary—integrates bioanalytical mass spectrometry, protein crystallography, synthetic chemistry and microbiology to make discoveries that are recognized to be at the forefront of glycobiology. The team’s achievements have earned them the 2011 Brockhouse Canada Prize for Interdisciplinary Research in Science and Engineering from NSERC.

The research results include basic scientific discoveries made possible by the development of new ultrasensitive bioanalytical methods, developed in tandem with synthetic chemistry and structural biology. The results are also made possible by the creation of conceptual models that enable the development of novel vaccines and molecules to neutralize bacterial toxins. By characterizing antibodies that bind Mycobacterium tuberculosis, The Alberta Carbohydrate Science Group has made major inroads toward developing a new, more effective vaccine for tuberculosis. From three-dimensional structures of bacterial toxins, the research team is developing molecules that neutralize the E. coli toxin.

The Alberta Carbohydrate Science Group is currently studying the toxins produced by Clostridium (C.) difficile infections, which afflicts approximately one in 10 hospital patients in North America and Europe, creating a billion-dollar annual burden on the health care system.