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The Michael Smith Laboratories

The Michael Smith Laboratories

In 1987, the University of British Columbia made a bold investment in the future by establishing Canada's first interdisciplinary biotechnology unit. Under the visionary leadership of Dr. Michael Smith, the UBC Biotechnology Laboratory was created and a gifted team of young scientists were recruited.  In 2004, the Biotechnology Laboratory was renamed the Michael Smith Laboratories in honour of the founding Director.

The Michael Smith Laboratories is governed internally by a Director (Dr. Peter Zandstra) that reports to the VP Academic, and who coordinates the inter-departmental activities of the MSL through an advisory committee of six Deans. There are approximately 250 research personnel in the Laboratory, with research activities falling into four major areas of emphasis:  

  • medical and animal molecular genetics
  • statistics, genomics and experimental evolution
  • bioengineering and bioanalytical/process technologies
  • plant and forestry molecular genetics

There is a strong emphasis on interdisciplinary interaction and overlap of interest among the different groups. Awards from prestigious national and international organizations are continually recognizing the faculty members for their excellence. In 1993, Dr. Michael Smith received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The Centre for High-Throughput Biology (CHiBi), now merged with Michael Smith Laboratories, was established in 2008 with the aim of placing British Columbia and Canada as leaders in the emerging fields of applied genomics and synthetic biology by bringing together areas of molecular biology, genetics, computational biology and microbiology in support of the physical and life sciences while capitalizing on high-throughput genomics, proteomics, and bioinformatics expertise that exist at UBC.

Despite its relatively short existence, CHiBi is rapidly emerging as a leading centre of excellence in the development and application of high-throughput methods to a variety of biological systems, as well as in the training of the next generation of researchers in this area. CHiBi`s multidisciplinary group of investigators is located in the Networks of Centres of Excellence (NCE) and conjoined Michael Smith Laboratories buildings at the centre of the UBC Point Grey campus.

Since its establishment, CHiBi has:

  • hired 7 faculty members,
  • established and secured major funding for a new interdisciplinary graduate program in Genome Science + Technology.
  • acquired substantial infrastructure and instrumentation ($6 million in 4 years).
  • published world-class research that benefits health care research, the pharmaceutical industry, agriculture, forestry and alternative energy amongst others.

Since its inception, CHiBi researchers have generated in excess of 65 patents, pending patents and / or disclosures, licensed in excess of 10 technologies, moved 2 drug candidates through pre-clinical phases, and created spin-off companies, which bring in ongoing revenue to the University of BC.

In addition, CHiBi faculty members play a major role in the training of Canada‚Äôs next generation of researchers, with a current complement of 7 principal investigators, 14 staff, 5 research associates, 16 postdoctoral fellows, 49 graduate students. Further, CHiBi faculty were the initiators of the new Genome Science + Technology graduate program at UBC (www.gsat.ubc.ca ) that is providing a unique interdisciplinary graduate training environment at the interface of the physical and life sciences with a focus on the development and application of high-throughput approaches to biological problems. Funding secured from NSERC and UBC allows 14 new graduate students per year to enter the program, with a steady state complement of approximately 60 trainees.

Representative CHiBi faculty research projects funded by Industry, Genome Canada, NSERC or CIHR include:

  • Discovery and evolution of enzymes for bioenergy and the biorefinery
  • Understanding and control of honey bee diseases
  • Development of microfluidics for single cell analyses
  • Understanding and control of neurodegenerative diseases
  • New therapeutics for treatment of influenza
  • Novel diabetes therapeutics for control of blood sugar
  • Cancer markers, diagnostics and markers