Proteomics network changing the face of health care

22 November 2010

When German-born Dr. Juergen Kast woke up on a sunny fall morning in 2000 for a job interview at UBC, he had an inkling that he might stay in Vancouver. Because he'd arrived in the dark the night before, the view of the mountains framing the Pacific Ocean that day was his first proper introduction to the city, and it reminded him of home. Having spent his undergrad and graduate years working on the edge of Lake Constance on the border of Germany, Kast was used to amazing scenery, but it was the people of Vancouver that made him feel most welcome.

This friendly culture extended to his future colleagues at UBC, setting the scene for the collaboration, which is a theme of his work to this day. Kast is a founding member of the MSFHR-funded BC Proteomics Network (BCPN), which received a Technology/Methodology Platform award in 2007, and currently its Scientific Director.

Proteomics is a complex field that Kast likens to the more well-known study of genomics — the exploration of the genome. Proteomics is the study of the proteins in a cell, which are largely responsible for helping us understand disease. In the long-term, this understanding will allow proteomics researchers to contribute to the development of areas like early diagnosis and more customized care, allowing people to suffer less and heal faster.

The only funded proteomics network in Canada, the BCPN has moved the field quickly from the "bench to the bedside." This success has put BC on the proteomics map in Canada and worldwide; the group is especially proud that the annual American Society for Mass Spectrometry will be holding its annual conference in Vancouver in 2012. They have also put in a bid to host the Pan-American Human Proteome Organisation's (HUPO) conference in 2013.

Kast offers a few reasons for the BCPN's success. Proteomics can be an expensive specialty, requiring high-tech equipment like the mass-spectrometer — which can cost upwards of $1 million — as well as constantly evolving and costly software. When proteomics experts share resources, they can move much faster and more effectively through this complicated area of study.

The sharing of resources also allows a diverse group of researchers to work together, providing new opportunities in the application of proteomics to different disciplines. For example, two of the undergraduate students working within the BCPN were recently accepted to medical school. Down the road, their proteomics background may well influence their work as medical doctors.

"We owe the success of this collaboration to the funding we received from the Michael Smith Foundation," says Kast. "We’ve been moving from a reactive to a proactive state in proteomics, which has an enormous impact on human health. In the next five to 10 years, we have an opportunity to begin utilizing preventative techniques and offering tailored therapy to patients, which, if we can continue collaboration with other disciplines, may change the face of health care."

Kast hopes to stay close to the Pacific Ocean for a few years to come.