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Karen Maxwell
(Photo by Sylvie Li/NSERC/CRSNG)

Karen Maxwell receives John C. Polanyi Award

November 10, 2020

Professor Karen Maxwell of the Temerty Faculty of Medicine has received this year’s John C. Polanyi Award in recognition of her ground-breaking discovery and ongoing contributions to the field of biochemistry.

“The John C. Polanyi award is so well-deserved for Professor Maxwell,” said Professor Trevor Young, dean of the Temerty Faculty of Medicine. “She is an original thinker, an outstanding scientist and an excellent mentor and communicator in science.

“Her work is essential to understanding how we can protect people from viruses and bacteria and is foundational to many important fields of medical and scientific inquiry.”

The prize, one of the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada (NSERC)’s annual Top Researchers Awards, was announced Nov. 10 by Governor General Julie Payette, Minister of Innovation, Science and Industry Navdeep Bains, and Professor Alejandro Adem, president of NSERC.

“These researchers exemplify Canada’s culture of curiosity and innovation, and are making the breakthroughs that have the power to improve the lives of all Canadians,” Bains said.

Maxwell leads a team that studies bacteriophages, viruses that infect bacteria. Maxwell and her team discovered that the bacteria Streptomyces – found in soil – produces molecules that stop viruses in their tracks and prevent fast replication. The breakthrough opens up a new method to screen for drugs that could be useful for the treatment of human cancers and viral infections.

“The University of Toronto congratulates Dr. Karen Maxwell on this impressive recognition of her leadership,” said University Professor Ted Sargent, U of T’s vice-president, research and innovation, and strategic initiatives. “Her research into the immune systems of bacteria, studying how they protect themselves against infection, is having a significant impact and may result in highly effective treatments for devastating diseases.”