Kaplan awards honour excellence in research
Written By: Richard Cairney and
2005-03-07A leader in carbohydrate science and an innovative economist are being honoured by the University of Alberta for their research efforts. Dr. David Bundle and Dr. Vic Adamowicz are being awarded the prestigious J. Gordin Kaplan Award for Excellence in Research.
Named for the U of A's first vice-president of research, the award is the highest honour the university bestows upon its own researchers.
Bundle has earned a reputation as one of the world's most renowned carbohydrate scientists. But he says the best thing he ever did was come to work as a postdoctoral fellow with the late Dr. Ray Lemieux, the pioneering chemist who revolutionized the field.
In 2000 Bundle and his colleagues published a remarkable paper in the prestigious journal Nature revealing their construction of the synthetic, so-called 'starfish' molecule. Named because of its physical appearance, the molecule was shown to bind itself to deadly toxins such as those produced by the strain of E. coli responsible for the water-borne poisoning and deaths in Walkerton, ON. The molecule's shape prevents the toxins from entering and destroying healthy cells. The molecule works like a muzzle on a dog, or a stick propping an alligator's mouth opened.
The approach is currently the only viable intravenous treatment to combat E.coli infections.
More recently, Bundle's research group has turned its attention to development of a vaccine against Candida albicans, a fungal pathogen that affects immunocompromised patients, all too often with fatal outcomes. In a paper published in the Journal of Biological Chemistry in 2001, Bundle's research team proved that, contrary to common thought, small synthesized Candida albicans cell wall fragments appear to be far more effective in evoking an immune response than larger fragments. Until then, many other research teams had been working on the assumption that larger fragments would be more effective.
That discovery was another example of Bundle's tendency to work against conventional thinking and produce stunning results.
"That is probably true. I am a bit of a contrarian," he said. "I would say I tend not to follow every area. There is always the current flavour-of-the-year kind of research and I tend to avoid those like the plague because I have my interests and think they are sound and tend to stick to those."
Adamowicz, from the Department of Rural Economy, is often described as one of the world’s top environmental and resource economists. His work includes examining the cost to make such environmental changes by increasing pollution control or the cost of increased forest harvesting. But the even more challenging number to calculate in those examples would be the benefits of improved air quality or of enhanced forest recreation experiences – figures which are not usually priced in markets and need extra work to decipher.
By developing ways to combine different data sources to get more reliable measures, Adamowicz and his colleagues have become pioneers in this area, a field called environmental benefit valuation, and his work is now cited often in related literature and used throughout the world.
In the United States, for example, there is a policy framework that requires parties who damage the environment to compensate the public. Adamowicz’s techniques are included in the suite of tools used to calculate those compensation amounts and have been applied in several compensation cases.
“What makes me happy is that these techniques are now being used in other disciplines such as health economics or transportation research,” he said.
Both award recipients will be recognized at a public ceremony at the Timms Centre for the Arts March 8 at 3:30 p.m. The two will give presentations on their current research efforts.
This article originally appeared in Express News.