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Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology

Dr. Lorne Babiuk wins 2016 World Agriculture Prize

Posted by karin.fodor on September 20, 2016
Posted in News 

Developing six vaccines, shepherding world-class research facility and training more than 100 graduate students earns UAlberta’s VP of research the nod.

By Michel Proulx on September 20, 2016

The University of Alberta’s vice-president of research has won a major international award for his “exceptional and significant” lifetime achievements.

Lorne Babiuk is the 2016 World Agriculture Prize Laureate, an award bestowed by the Global Confederation of Higher Education Associations for Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“This one ranks right at the top,” said Babiuk, a world-renowned virologist who has won numerous international awards for his leadership in vaccine development and research in veterinary infectious disease control, particularly diseases that spread from animals to humans.

“I’m in medicine. I’m in agriculture. These are often two solitudes and to be able to link them and get international awards—it’s very gratifying when you can make an impact that is recognized by two completely different groups,” he said.

Babiuk devoted his career to safeguarding the health of animals and people worldwide, primarily through the development of vaccines. He consistently fulfilled the promise he showed very early on in his career as a virologist when he worked on rotavirus—a devastating disease that can be fatal for calves—and devised a new technique to grow the virus and then developed a vaccine to control it.

It was the first of six vaccines Babiuk played a major role in developing over the years.

“One of the things that veterinarians or cattle producers don’t want to see is young calves dying and they can’t do anything about it. If the cattle producer in southern Alberta loses 25 per cent of his cattle, that has a huge economic impact. But then in the developing world, the 600 million smallholders—many of them women—they have four goats. If one dies, that means a child may go to bed hungry, and we know that nutrition and proteins specifically influences cognitive development in young children. So this has an impact on their livelihood and their ability to function in the future,” explained Babiuk.

Like many other accomplished scientists around the world, Babiuk often questioned assumptions and always looked for different and better ways to find solutions to complex infectious disease issues. For example, in the early ‘80s, at a time when few people thought biotechnology would have any application in the animal health industry, he and his team of researchers developed the world’s first genetically engineered vaccine for shipping fever, a disease that was causing the North American cattle industry $1 billion a year.

A few years later, Babiuk again broke scientific ground when he espoused that understanding the fundamentals of vaccine formulation and delivery rather than antigen production was the key to increasing the efficacy of vaccines. Since then, this theory has become accepted knowledge throughout the scientific community.

Though Babiuk is a prolific researcher who has published more than 500 peer-reviewed papers and has more than 22,000 citations, he has always been committed to bringing research results into the marketplace.

That was evident while he helped build the Vaccine and Infectious Disease Organization (VIDO) at the University of Saskatchewan from 1975 onwards and led it from 1993 to 2007, building it into an international research powerhouse that, to date, has produced eight vaccines.

Babiuk’s commitment to mentoring the next generation of researchers is equally impressive. He not only supervised more than 50 PhD students and more than 50 post-doctoral fellows, but also created a unique-in-North America graduate program in vaccinology that looked as much at the ethical and social concerns arising from the production and use of vaccines in various populations as the science.

Although Babiuk has been vice-president of research at the U of A for the past nine years and will retire from the position next June, he has maintained an active research program. He’s in the middle of developing his seventh vaccine, which will protect sheep, goats and cattle from five diseases, and an eight vaccine that will protect poultry from various diseases.

“There is so much to do. You can’t rest on your laurels,” said Babiuk.

2016 Clinical Lasker Award

Posted by karin.fodor on September 20, 2016
Posted in News 

Congratulations to the winners of this year’s Clinical Lasker Award:

Charlie Rice of Rockefeller University,

Ralf Bartenschlager of the University of Heidelberg

and Michael Sofia of Arbutus Biopharma.

 

CIHR money for Zika virus research

Posted by karin.fodor on August 5, 2016
Posted in News 

 

Dr. Tom Hobman in the Department of Cell Biology has received a 5 year grant from the CIHR Project scheme:

“Zika virus biology, diagnostics and therapeutic approaches”
Value: $1,020,609
This grant allows to continue our work on Zika virus which was initially supported by seed funding from LKSIoV for emerging priorities.

Hepatitis C “time bomb” threatens many Canadians

Posted by karin.fodor on August 2, 2016
Posted in News 

 

Article in the Edmonton Journal on August 8, 2016 relating to World Hepatitis Day on July 28, 2016:

Opinion: Canada's hepatitis C screening policies are failing everyone, especially baby boomers

Dr. Lorne Tyrrell, shown in a 2015 photo, writes in a guest column with Dr. Michael Houghton that Canada needs to take prompt action to test vastly more Canadians for hepatitis C.

At this very moment, an estimated 250,000 Canadians carry a “hidden time bomb,” the hepatitis C virus, or HCV, which attacks the liver and greatly increases the risk of cirrhosis, liver cancer, liver transplants and even death.

Perhaps more alarming — and damning for Canada’s public health agency — is that 60 per cent of Canadians infected with HCV remain undiagnosed for years and even decades until showing the first symptoms of liver disease. This not only jeopardizes the health of Canadians, but also places an undue cost burden on the health-care system. In Alberta alone, 40 per cent of liver transplants are related to end-stage liver disease associated with HCV infection.

With World Hepatitis Day last week on July 28, it is distressingly obvious that far too many Canadians lack basic knowledge about hepatitis C, a disease spread largely through blood contact and intravenous drug use. Canada did not start screening our blood supply for the virus until 1992, a full three years after the hepatitis C virus was discovered. As a result, tens of thousands of Canadians were infected through blood transfusions, with baby boomers born between 1945 and 1975 among those at greatest risk.

According to a recent survey by the Canadian Liver Foundation, 80 per cent of Canadians in this age bracket are unaware of their increased risk of infection, and only 25 per cent have been tested. From a public health perspective, this level of ignorance is beyond worrisome and speaks to an urgent need for Canada to take stronger action.

In contrast, the United States became the first country in the world to recommend HCV blood screening specifically for baby boomers. Other countries such as the United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, Belgium, France, Germany and Australia have either screening programs or screening guidelines.

The Public Health Agency of Canada has yet to follow suit with screening recommendations, for boomers or otherwise. Ontario and Prince Edward Island both of which have screening programs, the Northwest Territories has recommended one-time HCV testing for boomers and provinces such as Alberta are evaluating the effectiveness of screening.

Dr. Michael Houghton in a 2013 photo.
Dr. Michael Houghton in a 2013 photo. Shaughn Butts / Edmonton Journal

The real tragedy is that hepatitis C should stand among our greatest medical and scientific triumphs. Since the virus was discovered in 1989, research advances have led to antiviral treatments capable of curing more than 95 per cent of patients. Parallel to this, our own work continues at the University of Alberta to develop the world’s first vaccine against all seven major genotypes of the hepatitis C virus, with phase one clinical trials expected to begin next year.

Yet all the scientific advances in the world cannot make up for the absence of a concrete national strategy with a core emphasis on education, prevention, and timely and affordable access to treatment. On this front, Canada and most of our provinces are spinning their wheels. Even when patients are diagnosed, often only the sickest with advanced inflammation of the liver receive treatment fully covered by provincial pharmacare, which isn’t the case in other countries, including Australia.

The risk from inaction puts lives at risk, and ends up costing Canadians far more in the long run. A recent study published in the Canadian Journal of Gastroenterology and Hepatology showed the rates of hepatitis C in Canada are decreasing, however the prevalence of advanced liver disease is rising as the population ages. Unless we take action, we can expect 32,460 individuals infected with HCV will die from liver complications by 2035 and the total health-care costs associated with chronic HCV will rise by 60 per cent.

Here in Alberta, a recent analysis prepared for Alberta Health estimates that screening boomers and the general population represents “good value for money” in terms of quality-adjusted life years, a measure of disease burden. Screening and treating the entire HCV-infected population in this province would cost $253 million; screening and treating just boomers is estimated at $134 million and represents a reasonable place to start.

These costs are indeed high, but pale in comparison with what’s at stake.

Michael Houghton is a professor and Canada Excellence Research Chair in Virology at the University of Alberta and led the team that discovered the hepatitis C virus. Lorne Tyrrell is a distinguished university professor of medicine and director of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology at the University of Alberta. He co-developed the world’s first oral antiviral treatment for hepatitis B.

 

 

SOSCIP and the University of Alberta’s Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology partner to leverage high-performance computing technologies and expertise

 

March 9, 2016

(TORONTO, ON/EDMONTON, AB) The University of Alberta’s Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology (LKSIOV) and the Southern Ontario Smart Computing Innovation Platform (SOSCIP) are pleased to announce their partnership to support advanced research using high-performance computing.

Launched in 2012, SOSCIP is an Ontario-based collaborative research consortium, with 15 member academic institutions, Ontario Centres of Excellence and IBM Canada Ltd. as the lead industrial partner. SOSCIP brings together industry and academic researchers to support collaborative research projects in big data analytics and high-performance computing.

In 2012, SOSCIP installed a state-of-the-art IBM Blue Gene/Q supercomputer, which debuted as the 65th fastest computer in the world at the time. In early 2015, the group expanded its original 2.5 rack system by adding another full rack. At the same time, researchers at LKSIOV were interested in acquiring a small Blue Gene/Q system of their own. Rather than build a separate high-performance computing datacentre, LKSIOV and SOSCIP decided to partner together to build one very large Blue Gene/Q system to share. Today, the SOSCIP-LKSIOV Blue Gene/Q remains the fastest supercomputer in Canada with a full 4-rack system, 65,536 cores and capable of 840 Tflops peak theoretical performance. For comparison, the newest smartphones today have 8 cores.

Access to the supercomputer has enabled the LKSIOV to create a successful computational drug discovery program, a field pioneered by professor Jack Tuszynski of the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry over the last decade. One of the resulting technologies is a software that allows researchers to screen candidate chemicals through computer simulation in order to discard those predicted to block the hERG cardiac potassium channel. Blockage of this molecule can result in cardiotoxic effects—a common problem for drugs seeking regulatory approval.

In addition, the prediction of protein – protein interactions using a “supercomputational” approach, has also allowed the LKSIOV (alongside the Alberta Cancer Foundation with Dr. Khaled Barakat as the principal investigator) to discover small molecule inhibitors of immune checkpoints for the treatment of cancers. Immune checkpoint molecules play a key role in dampening cancer patients’ immune systems and preventing the clearance of tumor cells. The computational modeling of these proteins is being used to develop small molecules that inhibit them, with the intention of reactivating the immune system to treat the cancer.

“Our institute has invested in the application of ‘supercomputational’ science to medical science because we believe this is the future of drug discovery and development”, said Dr. Michael Houghton, director of the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute. “We believe that SOSCIP is an ideal partner for this endeavour, and we are very pleased to be working together.”

SOSCIP also sees great benefits in working with a world-class research institute such as the University of Alberta’s Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology. “This partnership provides an excellent example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts—working together, we can deliver greater access for researchers to Canada’s most powerful high-performance computing technologies and expertise”, said Dr. Elissa Strome, executive director of SOSCIP.

IBM has played a critical role as the lead industrial partner of SOSCIP, providing extensive Blue Gene/Q technical and research expertise, and facilitating the SOSCIP-LKSIOV partnership by identifying the opportunity for the two groups to work together.

“IBM is very proud to have played a role in bringing these two groups together, to build a Blue Gene/Q platform that will help researchers in different regions of Canada drive innovation using high-performance computing,” said Allen Lalonde, Senior Executive, IBM Canada Research and Development Centre.

Media inquiries:

Ross Neitz                                                                                           Elissa Strome

Communications associate                                                          Executive Director, SOSCIP
Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, U of A                                 416-825-1745

780-492-5986                                                                                     elissa.strome@soscip.org

rneitz@ualberta.ca

 

About the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology:

The Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology was established in 2010 with an endowment from the Li Ka Shing Foundation to promote virology-related discoveries. It is directed by Dr. D. Lorne Tyrrell, OC, discoverer of lamivudine, the first oral treatment of Hepatitis B. The LKSIOV’s translation and commercialization hub, the Li Ka Shing Applied Virology Institute, is also funded by the Government of Alberta and is directed by Dr. Michael Houghton, the discoverer of the Hepatitis C virus. With a world-class team, its mission is to translate new discoveries into clinically relevant and commercially viable products to diagnose, prevent, treat and cure diseases with the ultimate goal of improving patient care for Albertans and around the world.

About SOSCIP:

Launched in 2012, SOSCIP was founded by seven Ontario universities and IBM Canada Ltd. as a collaborative research consortium, with a mandate to bring together academic researchers and small- and medium-sized companies to drive innovation using state-of-the-art advanced computing and big data analytics technologies. With new funding from the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario and IBM, SOSCIP has recently expanded its computing platforms and membership, which currently sits at 15 academic institutions, IBM Canada Ltd. and Ontario Centres of Excellence.

press release_final(1)

Dr. Tom Hobman and the Zika virus

Posted by karin.fodor on February 1, 2016
Posted in News 

 

Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology Investigator Dr. Tom Hobman focuses his research on the new threat of the Zika virus.

 

 

More articles and videos:

Global News

UofA – News&Events

GN Video

CBC Canada News

CBC player

 

 

Dr. D. Lorne Tyrrell in conversation with Jim Edwards

Posted by karin.fodor on January 19, 2016
Posted in News 

KIllam talk 2015 Jan 19.2016(2)

Dr. Tyrrell and Jim Edwards met for a conversation about Dr. Tyrrell’s carreer in Medicine and Science as well as insights into the current issues in virology research. They talked about the current challenges and what we can possibly look for in the future.

Gairdner Foundation Awards Ceremony in Toronto

Posted by karin.fodor on October 29, 2015
Posted in News 

Dr. D.Lorne Tyrrell – Chairman of the Board of Directors – attended the annual Gala Dinner for the Award Winners 2015

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Li Ka Shing Art Installation

Posted by karin.fodor on October 21, 2015
Posted in News 

The long awaited Li Ka Shing Art Installation was erected in front of the Li Ka Shing  Building at the University of Alberta at the corner of 87 Avenue & 112 Street

 

Michael Houghton video

Posted by karin.fodor on July 29, 2015
Posted in News 

Published on Apr 14, 2012

Dr. Michael Houghton , Hepatitis C virus finder, is interviewed by Humberto Silva. Dr. Houghton has recently announced a new vaccine for the disease.

video