McMaster University

McMaster University

Faculty of
Health Sciences

Award aids research into disarming biological 'stealth missile'

Published: June 2, 2010
Brian Coombes
Brian Coombes, assistant professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences

Brian Coombes, assistant professor of biochemistry and biomedical sciences,  has been awarded the Young Investigator Award in Biological Sciences from Boehringer Ingelheim pharmaceutical company.

The award supports research by new faculty members at Canadian universities whose research interests are in virology, cellular and molecular or structural biology, biochemistry, or pharmacology.

The Boehringer Ingelheim award will allow Coombes and his team to continue studying a type III secretion system in bacteria. This system is used by different kinds of bacteria to establish an infection in a host and to cause disease, depending on the type of host infected.

Type III secretion is a widespread colonization factor in the bacterial world, used by pathogens, but also beneficial microbes, to colonize their hosts. With this award, the team will look at the similarities and differences between type III secretion systems in pathogenic bacteria and beneficial ones.

"For bacteria, the type III secretion system is like the stealth missile in biological warfare. If we can figure out how to disarm it, we give the patient the upper hand in fighting the infection using their natural immune system that is elegantly designed and effective at killing foreign microbes," says Coombes.

"This research will positively impact a number of areas where bacterial colonization is important, including food and water safety, understanding bacteria in domesticated animals, and in beneficial interactions between bacteria and host organisms, for which there are many examples."

Coombes has received other early researcher awards including an Early Research Award from the Ontario Ministry of Research and Innovation; a Most Promising Researcher Merit Award from the Public Health Agency of Canada; a CIHR New Investigator Award and the American Society for Microbiology Young Investigator Award.

The Young Investigator Award in Biological Sciences includes $75,000 and will involve Coombes traveling to Quebec this summer to give a scientific lecture to the Canadian headquarters of Boehringer Ingelheim.

Web: Coombes Laboratory

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