New Canada Excellence Research Chair joining University of Alberta

Kalyan Das will join the U of A in January to continue his research in antiviral drug design.

A new Canada Excellence Research Chair is coming to the University of Alberta. He will conduct research in antiviral drug design and pandemic preparedness. 

Kalyan Das will be joining the U of A in January as a research chair and professor in the faculty of medicine and dentistry. He will receive $8 million over the next eight years, as part of the Canada Excellence Research Chair award, to continue his research in antiviral drug design. 

“I have a good role to play in collaboration with [the U of A] … so I’m looking forward to it,” Das said. 

To come to the U of A, Das is leaving his current research position at the Rega Institute for Medical Research in Belgium.

Antiviral drugs are an effective option for combating potential pandemics, Das says

Previously, Das helped create two drugs that fight the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). HIV is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. The virus can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) if left untreated. His work with HIV has allowed for a better understanding of “the molecular basis of drug resistance and how we can better design drugs.” 

According to Das, antiviral drug design is important because many prevalent viruses, such as the flu, are considered pandemics. Antiviral drugs are an effective option for combating potential pandemics, he said.

“A lot of [emerging viruses] have the potential for a pandemic, so we need to be prepared for any outbreaks.” 

Additionally, viruses frequently develop resistances to drugs. As a result, designing drugs that can overcome drug resistance is like playing chess, according to Das. 

“The virus will probably mutate [and have] single or multiple mutations — usually multiple — to overcome the drug and develop resistance. It is a chess game. We have to keep playing that game.”

Das will assist in building a new cryo-EM facility to help with this research

At the Rega Institute, Das started a new structural biology lab from scratch. Along with his team, he built cryogenic electron microscopes (cyro-EM) to study the molecular structure of viruses. 

Researchers have used these microscopes to study virus structures at near atomic resolution. This gives researchers a better understanding of chemistry within human anatomy through atom-to-atom interactions. 

According to Das, understanding the biology of a virus is the first step in designing a drug to attack that biological system. Cryo-EMs play an important role in this process. They allow researchers to see “that atomic attempt at interaction and we can specifically design the drug [to combat that].” 

At the U of A, Das will work to build a new cryo-EM facility for antiviral drug design. He mentioned that in 2017, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was awarded to the developers of the cryo-EM microscope because of its advancements in biological studies. 

“Microscopy is not new. But electron microscopy attracted lots [of people] because of its ability to get the structures of complex biological systems at near atomic resolution.” 

Das is “really looking forward” to his research at the U of A, he says

Hoping to build a big team, Das is excited about collaborating with a new group of researchers. He is looking forward to contributing towards the understanding of viruses and targeting viral entities for drug design. 

Additionally, he is enthusiastic to mentor the next generation of medical researchers that will continue antiviral drug design. He recognizes the most important component of teaching is preparing the next generation so that they are “better prepared for the future and have a better scope for research.” 

“I’m expecting that my understanding of drug resistance, experience with antiviral drug development, and understanding of developing a new structural biology lab from scratch will help with doing research in Edmonton. I’m really looking forward to it.” 

Peris Jones

Peris Jones is the 2023-24 Deputy News Editor at The Gateway. She is in her third year, studying Media Studies and English. In her free time, she loves going to the gym, shopping, and watching movies with her friends.

Related Articles

Back to top button