Aucoin & Ward Holiday Potluck 2022

The Aucoin Research Group is focused on complex biologics. Biologics are biological products i.e. products that are derived from living organisms or are the organisms themselves. More specifically, our group focuses on cell culture, growing populations of individual cells that are either themselves the products or that make a specific type of protein, nucleic acid, lipid or combination thereof.

There is no doubt that the most commercially valuable class of products that fall under the umbrella of biologics are antibodies. And for this reason, our lab continues to study these molecules. We produce monoclonal antibodies in CHO cells, and ultimately we are interested in the quality of the protein produced. This has led us to look at feeding strategies and analytical technologies that support feeding strategies to look at the effect on antibody glycosylation as well as antibody variants. Some of this work has resulted in publications, some has been in support of the biopharma industry.

Another particular product that we focus on are virus-like particles (VLPs), and we produce these products mostly in insect cells. Insect cells along with baculovirus vectors are a transient platform that hold a lot of promise and versatility. In this work, the overall premise is that cells can be treated as individual miniature factories, with enzymes being analogous to workers, metabolites to raw materials and biologics to a final product. With this mindset, we can start to implement effective manufacturing strategies like those pioneered by the auto industry such as Just-in-Time and Lean Manufacturing. Assembly lines are efficient because they are based on sequentially coordinated events. In this vein, we have made significant strides in building such an assembly line for the production of VLPs  using baculovirus expression vectors (BEVs). When a baculovirus infects an insect cell, the cell redirects its resources to the production of viral products. We can direct the cell to make a desired biologic by engineering the baculovirus genome, which acts as an instruction manual. Our work goes one step further to control the biological process, and capitalizes on the overall ‘life’ cycle of the baculovirus, which consists of a series of cascading ‘protein production’ events. These events are partly controlled by promoters, the genetic sequences upstream of genes. We placed our genes of interest downstream of baculovirus promoters that are not traditionally used to drive foreign protein expression, but that allowed us to control how combinations of proteins were produced in terms of timing and quantity, taking full advantage of the entire infection period. 

This is not all that we do though and I point you to some of the other work that we are tackling by going to this link.

You can find us on Google Scholar.

Since putting the COVID19 pandemic behind us, our lab has directed our efforts towards:

  • furthering biologics production in insect cells by better understanding the function of baculovirus genes;
  • we have focussed on generating antibodies from gene to purified product;
  • we are building a phage-based dual modality vaccine candidate against novel infectious disease targets;
  • we are enabling enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) based technologies to paint a picture of immunity around the Waterloo campus during the pandemic;
  • creating synthetic microbiomes and the interaction between microbial communities.