Chemistry professor Roberto Botelho (centre, left) and some of his star pupils PHOTO: MARISSA DEDERER

Research grants could lead to breakthrough

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By Alfea Donato

Thanks to grants worth almost halfa million dollars from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR), Roberto Botelho, a chemistry and biology professor at Ryerson, will be at the helm of a potential scientific breakthrough over the next five years.

While the CIHR awarded Botelho the five-year operating grant in June, he was recently awarded the IG Maud Menten New Principal Investigator Prize for an additional $30,000 in May.

Botelho had the highest ranked application for a new investigator in his category, Cell Physiology, which was unusually competitive this year.

The CIHR awards 400 grants a year, with only 17 per cent of 2,000 applicants receiving funds. The funds will be used to pay graduate students involved in the research as well as for experimentation material.

The grants will help Botelho focus on studying tubular lysosomes, a minor mystery in the molecular science field.

Normal lysosomes function like stomachs within cells: they contain digestive enzymes which eliminate foreign bacteria and waste. Botelho hopes to establish why they mutate in a tubular fashion and how they are maintained.

Botelho began this research in 2010, with PhD molecular science student Amra Saric as the driving force behind experiments and in collaboration with the Hospital for Sick Children. Since then, his team has discovered the first proteins involved in the tubulation and mutation processes.

Botelho says there are hints tubulation is linked to creating antibodies and removing bacteria.

“Ultimately, we’re hoping by studying [tubular lysosomes] we can target drug development,” says Botelho.

If his research can open up these opportunities, it may lead to eliminating autoimmunity, a condition which prevents an organism from distinguishing its own healthy cells from diseased ones. It attacks both, leading to auto-immune diseases such as lupus and a form of arthritis.

“There’s a considerable potential that this can be important,” says Botelho. “Only time will tell.” But the success hasn’t gone to his head. For Botelho, the research represents a mere fraction of what he hopes to accomplish.

“In many ways, it’s business as usual. You’ve got the money, gotta do the work now,” he says. “It’s a little blip in what we want to keep doing if we want to make a difference.” In the future, Botelho’s research development can be found at his profile page on

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