Biotechnology Research Areas

Biomarker discovery

For diseases such as cancer, an ideal diagnostic test would be one that detects the disease early, before symptoms appear, and which is non-invasive and accurate.  Serum (obtained from blood) is a potentially rich source of so-called “biomarkers” but the challenge is to detect these low abundance disease markers amidst all the other high abundance serum proteins.  Dr. Joan Shellard is investigating a combined immunological & proteomics approach to identify novel biomarkers in human serum.  This project is being done in collaboration with Suzanne Perry (Centre for High Throughput Biology, UBC) and the Prostate Centre (VGH) and is funded from a Small Projects Health Research Grant awarded by the BC Proteomics Network  and Michael Smith Foundation.

Inflammation in human disease

A major focus for Biotech Research Faculty is identifying the role of inflammation in the development and progression of chronic human diseases, such as cancer, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease. With a grant awarded from the BCIT Institute Research Funds, Dr. Sarah McLeod is investigating the role of inflammation-promoting immune cells, known as tumour-associated macrophages (TAMs), in breast cancer progression. Specifically, she is investigating the role of the secreted chitinase-like proteins, YKL-40 and YKL-39, in the interactions that occur between TAMs and breast cancer cells. These interactions appear to drive breast tumour progression, and finding ways to disrupt them may provide novel approaches to breast cancer treatment.

Applied health genomics

The ability to predict an individual’s susceptibility to developing or combating a particular disease would directly benefit patients, as well as researchers focused on drug development and clinicians deciding on treatment options.  Biotech faculty joined forces with Dr. Karen Mooder in a systems biology approach to identify disease susceptibility markers in human populations. A combination of population-based genomics, signal pathway analysis and gene expression profiling will be applied to a case-control pilot study of Hashimoto’s disease (an autoimmune disease of the thyroid gland) to validate and refine their approach.

Biofuels research

Reduction of net carbon emissions from vehicles is most easily accomplished by substitution, using biofuels that have been derived from atmospheric carbon.  Ideally such biofuels should be drop-in replacements for existing fuels so that the economic cost of infrastructure and equipment replacement is avoided. Ethanol and biodiesel can be used to substitute for petroleum fuels but the limited supply of biodiesel and problems with use in cold weather limit application of pure biodiesel in Canada.  By combining and integrating inexpensive physical chemical processes with highly selective enzymatic processes, Dr. Robert Forsyth is developing 100% biofuels that will work in existing engines even in Canadian winters.