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About the Institute

Profile of Simon Sharpe

Dr. Simon Sharpe
Dr. Simon Sharpe

Dr. Simon Sharpe, PhD

  • Scientist, Molecular Medicine
  • Assistant Professor, Department of Biochemistry, University of Toronto
  • Canada Research Chair, Structural Biology of Membrane Active Proteins

1. Where are you from? Where did you study?
I was born in Alberta and I grew up in Newfoundland. I did my undergraduate degree in biochemistry at Memorial University in Newfoundland and my PhD at the University of Western Ontario also in biochemistry. I then spent four years at the National Institutes of Health in Maryland as a post-doctoral fellow before joining SickKids in 2006.

2. What are you researching right now?
Overall, we are interested in the molecular structure of proteins and how they assemble to form large complexes that are important in a wide variety of diseases. Specifically we are looking at two different things in our research.

First, we are studying a class of integral membrane proteins from viruses that are involved in the production and release of new viruses into the host after infection. We are trying to characterize their structure and understand how this information may be used to inhibit those proteins. We are hoping this will eventually lead to the design of new anti-viral drugs. At the moment, we are specifically looking at HIV but are hoping to expand our research to look into more viruses.

Second, we are looking at the mechanisms of toxicity in diseases associated with protein mis-folding, specifically neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease. We want to understand exactly how these mis-folded proteins lead to cell death. We are using a structural approach to understand what these look like when they are at the cell membrane and how that leads to the progressive death of neurons..

3. Who is your all-time favourite scientist, and why?
My all time favourite scientist is Galileo, one of the major historical figures of science. He was largely denounced by the church, which was very powerful at the time, for his belief that the Earth goes around the sun. He pursued his ideas though, and in the end, his contributions to physics and modern science are enormous.

4. What in your opinion is the single most important scientific breakthrough, and why?
Since my work focuses so strongly on the structure of proteins and other biological molecules, I will say that I view Pauling and Corey’s work to predict the structures that are accessible to proteins as instrumental in setting up structural biology as we know it today.

5. What are your major interests outside the lab?
I love the outdoors. My favourite activities are mountain biking, skiing and snowboarding. I also enjoy a good hike with my wife and our dogs.

6. Why science?
I loved science fiction when I was a kid and I think that is what first sparked my interest in science. As soon as I got into high school and university and got a taste for actually doing science, particularly research, I realized that this was something I really loved. As time goes on, the fact that we can ask questions about the properties of molecules, learn something about them and then relate this knowledge to biological systems and medically relevant diseases is just incredible. The sense of discovery that comes from scientific research is unbeatable.

7. Why SickKids?
SickKids is a fantastic place to work. Both within my program and the Research Institute as a whole, there is a collection of phenomenal scientists. It is a collaborative environment where people work together and interact daily. When you put SickKids in the context of the Toronto research community, it is an amazingly dynamic place to work.

8. What is the most controversial question in your field right now?
In terms of the issues of protein aggregation, in diseases like Alzheimer’s, the fundamental question of how these proteins cause cell death and lead to nerve degeneration, is controversial in itself. People have been asking this question for over a decade with a number of different proposals but there has been no definitive experimental evidence to provide the answer.

September 2009

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