McMaster University

McMaster University

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Health Sciences

McMaster scientists involved in nationwide initiatives aimed at combating SARS

Dean and vice-president says McMaster is taking a leading role in the fight against SARS

Published: May 29, 2003

Researchers in the McMaster High Throughput Screening Laboratory in Hamilton will be at the centre of a nationwide wide initiative working on screening the SARS protease aimed at developing a new therapeutic drug. Protease is the digestive enzyme that causes the breakdown of protein.

The Protein Engineering Network Centre of Excellence (PENCE) has provided $250,000 in total funding for this project and seven other studies at the universities of British Columbia, Alberta, and Toronto.

"Just as the protease of HIV has a lynchpin role in the proliferation of HIV, this group has recognized that the protease of the SARS virus is a target for new therapeutics aimed at SARS," says Eric Brown, assistant professor, biochemistry, at McMaster.

"The sequencing of the SARS coronavirus by Canadian researchers has opened the door for understanding and targeting its Achilles heel."

Researchers at the McMaster High Throughput Screening Lab (HTS) will have a key role in screening the SARS protease against tens of thousands of molecules with potential as new drugs.

The McMaster High Throughput Screening Lab houses state of the art robotics, instrumentation and research staff, that makes it the only laboratory of its kind in Canada. It was funded through the Ontario Research and Development Fund.

"The McMaster HTS Lab, which opened in December 2001 is uniquely suited to the task of screening molecules for their potential in drug discovery, and will have a crucial role in this project," says Brown.

Dr. John Kelton, dean and vice-president, health sciences says McMaster University is taking a leading role in SARS research, and the investigation of infectious diseases.

"At McMaster we already have a strong collaboration between infectious disease groups, virologists, experts on vaccines, and the health care community, along with a large number of scientists with expertise in population health studies."

"Three major studies on the SARS issue are being investigated by McMaster researchers. McMaster has a history of handling major research, but also has the flexibility to turn investigations around quickly", says Kelton.

Two other important studies on SARS at McMaster involve Dr. Mark Loeb and Dr. David Fisman.

Dr. Mark Loeb, infectious diseases physician, medical microbiologist and assistant professor of pathology and molecular medicine at McMaster, is leading the Canadian SARS Research Network (CSRN), which will improve the understanding of SARS by generating vital data about how to test for SARS and manage patients with SARS.

Dr. David Fisman, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at McMaster University, has been involved in a mathematical modeling study of the success of quarantines against SARS, along with colleagues at Harvard University.

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