An award-winning blend of computers, chemistry and biology
Trained in computer science, the Faculty of Medicine’s Dr. Mathieu Lavallée-Adam expanded into the realm of bioinformatics soon into his career when he saw its profound impact on biomedical research. Having established himself as an accomplished researcher in his chosen field, his work is now being recognized within a new realm of science.
Today Dr. Lavallée-Adam was awarded the Polanyi Prize in Chemistry by the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education. The Polanyi Prizes were established in honour of Dr. John Charles Polanyi, who received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1986.
“As a computer scientist and a bioinformatician, it is extremely humbling to receive a prize in chemistry, a field I was not originally trained in, but in which I wish to make an impact with my own expertise,” he says. “It is truly amazing to see how essential computer programs are nowadays to most domains of scientific research and how they transform the way scientists think about their work.”
Dr. Lavallée-Adam started a faculty appointment in the fall of last year as an assistant professor with the Department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology (BMI), and is also a member of the Ottawa Institute of Systems Biology (OISB). He now leads his own lab in developing computational methods to help understand cellular mechanisms and disease processes, a field known as bioinformatics.
“As a young student, I was already aware of the positive impact of computer science on biomedical research,” he says. “I was hooked when my mentors, Dr. Mathieu Blanchette, Dr. Benoit Coulombe and Dr. John R. Yates III, introduced me to bioinformatics analysis in proteomics and mass spectrometry, a field that undoubtedly influences the way biochemical and biomedical research is performed.”
Mass spectrometry is a technology based on chemistry principles. Sophisticated computer software coupled with mass spectrometry led to the emergence of the field of proteomics, which studies proteins in biological samples such as cells or tissue, he explains, giving clues about the processes and mechanisms governing the behaviour of cells, and in turn, important information on a variety of diseases.
“My computational tools have, among other things, paved the way for asking new questions about proteins and their interactions, and to providing a better understanding of their role in the cell,” says Dr. Lavallée-Adam. “My methods have yielded the discovery of novel protein interactions involved in critical cellular processes.”
Dr. Lavallée-Adam plans to continue designing algorithms and innovative software packages to tackle biological problems and provide a better understanding of mass spectrometry data and the biochemistry behind them.
“I strongly believe bioinformatics and mass spectrometry approaches will continue to gain in popularity and considerably influence biomedical research in the future,” he says.
The Minister of Advanced Education and Skills Development made the official announcement of the Polanyi Prize winners earlier today. Each year, the fund provides five prizes to researchers in their post-doctoral studies or beginning a faculty appointment with their university, and acknowledges the quality of past, current and planned research.