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2009 NRC Holmes Award winner, explores cellular processes leading to cholera

October 09, 2009— Ottawa, Ontario

Vibrio cholerae causes cholera, a severe diarrheal disease that afflicts or kills many in the developing world. We know how these bacteria enter the body, but we don't know precisely how they react inside the body to produce disease. Dr. Bryan Davies, winner of the 2009 NRC H.L. Holmes Award, aims to explain that mystery, an accomplishment that could clarify new targets for vaccine or antibiotic development.

 Dr. Davies was awarded the $198,000 NRC prize at BioContact Quebec - an annual Biopharmaceutical Partnership Symposium held in Quebec City, October 7-8, 2009. The award will fund two years of collaborative research at the Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Dr. Bryan Davies is the sixth recipient of the NRC H.L. Holmes Award.

Dr. Bryan Davies is the sixth recipient of the NRC H.L. Holmes Award.

 "I'm excited about studying this bacterium and the changes in gene expression it undergoes once it's taken up by the human host," says Dr. Davies. "Using a combination of traditional genetics, functional genomics and a novel proteomic technology, I intend to map the gene regulatory networks and identify novel secreted proteins that influence the progression of cholera."

 What Dr. Davies learns from V. cholerae about cellular disease pathways may also apply to other pathogenic bacteria. For example, like many other bacteria, V. cholerae exists in a free living state in the external environment and a pathogenic state inside the host organism. It undergoes drastic changes in its gene expression when transitioning from the external to the internal environment, adapting to hostile conditions in the human gut and activating pathogenic sequences that result in disease. Several host signals - including temperature, pH and the presence of certain human metabolites - are thought to cue V. cholerae for this change in state.

 Dr. Davies obtained a BSc degree from McMaster University and received his PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 2008. He will conduct his postdoctoral research under the direction of Professor John Mekalanos, head of the Department of Microbiology and Molecular Genetics at Harvard Medical School and a leader in understanding the molecular mechanisms behind bacterial pathogenesis.

 Bryan Davies (left) received the NRC Holmes Award from NRC President, Dr. Pierre Coulombe, at the annual symposium BioContact Quebec.

Bryan Davies (left) received the NRC Holmes Award from NRC President, Dr. Pierre Coulombe, at the annual symposium BioContact Quebec.

 "Dr. Davies is a very worthy candidate for this award," said NRC President Dr. Pierre Coulombe. "His work may well help us determine the pathways and processes by which bacteria create disease. Progress in this field will undoubtedly help medical researchers develop more effective ways to block disease at the cellular level, before it even develops."

 The H.L. Holmes Award was established by NRC in honour of the late Dr. R.H.L. Holmes, a chemist who spent most of his research career in Alberta. The award gives recipients the opportunity to conduct post-doctoral studies under outstanding researchers at world-famous graduate schools or research institutes. Research must be undertaken in the fields of chemistry, physics, biology or mathematics as they relate to medical and biological processes.

 Dr. Davies is the sixth recipient of the NRC H.L. Holmes Award. Past winners are Dr. Jennifer Estall (2007), Dr. Michael Cowan (2005), Dr. Alison Allan (2003), Dr. Suzanne Demczuk (1997) and Dr. Carol Dallaire (1994).

Find out more about the H.L. Holmes Awards for Post-Doctoral Studies.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada
613-991-1431
media@nrc-cnrc.gc.ca

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