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Current Winner - 2023

Arthur B. McDonald Fellowships

Karen Maxwell

Arthur B. McDonald Fellowships

Department of Biochemistry

University of Toronto

Research on bacteriophages—tiny viruses that infect bacteria—is leading to major advancements in molecular biology and transforming how we diagnose and treat bacterial infections that are growing more antibiotic resistant each year.

Dr. Karen Maxwell is an internationally renowned expert in phage biology and a leading scientist who has had an undeniable impact on this cutting-edge field. Maxwell’s team was the first to discover that bacteria in the soil produce small chemical compounds that protect them from phage infection. This breakthrough identified a new archetype of phage defence and, as these bacteria are estimated to produce over 100,000 diverse compounds, has opened the door to the discovery of new drugs that could be used to treat viral and bacterial infections.

Maxwell’s research into protein-based antiviral defences that protect bacteria from phage infection uncovered novel inhibitors of CRISPR-Cas systems. These “anti-CRISPRs” are being used to develop more precise CRISPR-Cas-based tools for a wide range of applications in biotechnology and healthcare. Ongoing work in the Maxwell lab characterizing other antiviral defences is contributing to the design of engineered phages to treat dangerous bacterial infections in humans, animals, and plants.

In addition to her achievements in the lab, Maxwell is an active promoter of diversity in science. She values mentorship to increase diversity in senior positions and has been publicly recognized for her outreach activities.

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