Donnelly Centre Investigator Mikko Taipale Wins Inaugural Catalyst Award in Molecular Genetics

Jun 5, 2019
Author: 
Jovana Drinjakovic

Mikko Taipale with donorsAssistant Professor Mikko Taipale, second left, pictured between Elisa Nuyten and David Dime with Professor and Chair of molecular Genetics Department, Leah Cowen (Photo by Tim Westwood).

 

The award will help lab explore new research avenues in cancer drug discovery.

High-risk research can bring high rewards, but for early career researchers seeking tenure and funding renewal it often makes more sense to stick with projects that are safe and guaranteed to yield data. Fortunately for Mikko Taipale, he can now do both.

Taipale, Assistant Professor in the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research and Department of Molecular Genetics (MoGen), is the inaugural recipient of the David Dime and Elisa Nuyten Catalyst Award in Molecular Genetics. The award was established by Dime, a U of T alum, to support exploratory research projects which are not obvious candidates for government funding.

“It’s a huge honour to receive this award,” says Taipale, who holds Canada Research Chair in Functional Proteomics and Proteostasis and is an Azrieli Global Scholar at the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research. “It is amazing that David decided to give this money away to MoGen—he could have spent it otherwise, but he decided to support research.”

“It’s truly humbling for my lab to be the recipient of his generous gift,” he says.

Taipale received the award at the symposium celebrating the department’s 50th anniversary. Leah Cowen, Professor and Chair of the department, thanked Dime and his wife Elisa Nuyten for their gift calling it “incredibly important and of tremendous value to the department’s effort to support innovation and discovery.”

Learn more about David Dime’s gift to U of T.

Since joining the Donnelly Centre as junior faculty in 2014, Taipale has established a research program that seeks to uncover how cells regulate abundance of gene-encoded protein molecules. Because having too much or too little of a given protein can lead to disease, researchers are increasingly looking for ways to manipulate protein levels for therapy.

The $50,000 award will allow Taipale’s team to further develop a new technology called PROTACs, for Proteolysis Targeting Chimeras, to reveal therapeutic targets in cancer cells. Unlike widely used small molecule inhibitors that block protein function, PROTAC allows targeted degradation of unwanted proteins in a way that is permanent.

"I think that science is really going to save this world and it gives me real pleasure to be able to support scientific research" - David Dime, President, Toronto Research Chemicals

David Dime graduated and obtained his PhD in chemistry from U of T. While working, in the early 1980s, as a research associate at the Department of Medical Genetics, as MoGen was then known, he realized that his colleagues doing biomedical research lacked a dedicated supply of chemistry reagents for their experiments. With support from U of T, Dime launched his company, Toronto Research Chemicals, which has grown into a successful business employing 350 people, of whom 200 are scientists, and supplying the biomedical research community worldwide.

Dime’s motivation to establish the Catalyst Fund was driven not only by a desire to give back to U of T but also by a true passion for science. “I love science,” he said at the symposium. “I think that science is really going to save this world and it gives me real pleasure to be able to support scientific research.”

U of T’s Department of Molecular Genetics was founded in 1969 by University Professor Emeritus Louis “Lou” Siminovitch who recognized early on the potential of genetic and molecular biology research in modern medicine. Siminovitch, who is 99 years old, attended the symposium along with other former department chairs, including James Friesen, who co-founded the Donnelly Centre and served as its inaugural Director  Brenda Andrews, who’s been at the Centre’s helm since 2004.

Learn more about the history of Molecular Genetics at U of T.

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