Prof. Jennifer Geddes-McAlister
Prof. Jennifer Geddes-McAlister

A University of Guelph microbiologist researching new approaches to fighting microbial infections will receive a 2020 Banting Research Foundation Discovery Award.

Prof. Jennifer Geddes-McAlister has been named one of three recipients of a Jarislowsky Fellowship – Banting Discovery Award, a one-year grant that provides up to $25,000 to support early-career investigators in addressing a health or biomedical research question.

The Department of Molecular and Cellular Biology researcher will use the grant for a project called “Combatting Fungal Infections through the Discovery and Mechanistic Elucidation of Novel Anti-virulence Strategies.”

“I am honoured to be a recipient of the 2020 Jarislowsky Fellowship – Banting Discovery Award. My group is excited for the opportunity to pursue our research focused on the discovery of novel antifungal agents against cryptococcosis using state-of-the-art mass spectrometry-based proteomics,” said Geddes-McAlister.

Her research is critical given that fungal diseases are a growing public health concern in Canada, particularly due to the evolution of drug-resistant strains and the emergence of new pathogens.

Fungal pathogens have evolved sophisticated infection strategies, including the secretion of “virulence factors,” which are molecules that interfere with host cell functions and enable pathogens to evade the host’s immune responses.

The treatment of these infections is challenging given the limited selection of clinically effective, non-toxic anti-fungal agents, as well as the requirement for prolonged treatment.

“Combined, these factors highlight the urgent need to explore novel treatment strategies,” said Geddes-McAlister.

With the grant, Geddes-McAlister will leverage her lab’s expertise in quantitative proteomics to define how fungal pathogens interact with hosts and understand why hosts are unable to clear infection.

Their long-term goal is to enhance the immune response to promote clearance of the fungal pathogen and reduce reliance on antifungal drugs for treatment.

The Banting Discovery Awards provide seed funding to investigators at universities and research institutes in Canada, allowing them to gather pilot data to pursue other funding sources and continue their research.