Chemistry researcher awarded prestigious Polanyi Prize

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Drew BennettDrew Bennett, a researcher in the Faculty of Science, was awarded the 2014 Polanyi Prize in Chemistry this week for his groundbreaking work on potential ways of targeting and killing cancer cells.

Despite promising advances in new drugs and therapies, the ability to target specific diseased cells limits the effectiveness of these emerging treatments. Bennett’s research aims to improve treatment for those with serious diseases such as cancer, HIV, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections.

These awards are the highest honour that researchers can achieve from the province of Ontario,” said Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor of Waterloo. “We have created the environment here at the University of Waterloo for people to conduct fundamental research into some of the world’s most pressing problems.”

Bennett, currently a Banting Postdoctoral Fellow and sessional lecturer in the Department of Chemistry,  uses computer simulations to produce physics-based “movies” of how individual molecules interact with each other.

The simulations provide insight into how peptides target and penetrate cell membranes. For example, the positively charged surfaces of certain naturally occurring peptides are attracted to the negatively charged surfaces of cancer cells. The goal is to design new peptides that target and penetrate the membrane of diseased cells and deliver specific drugs in order to ultimately kill these cells.

Bennett’s research will lead to a better understanding of peptides, which will allow for delivery of emerging treatments for cancer and other major diseases directly into specific cells, enhancing the success of known drugs and allowing for the development of new therapies.

In addition to Bennett’s award, the 2014 Polanyi Prize in Physics was awarded to another Waterloo researcher, Dr. Eduardo Martin-Martinez from the Department for Applied Mathematics and the Institute for Quantum Computing, for his research examining the interconnections between gravity and quantum theory.

The Polanyi Prizes were created to celebrate Professor John Charles Polanyi’s 1986 Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his fundamental research into chemical kinetics. The five prizes mirror those of the Nobel Prizes in Chemistry, Economic Science, Literature, Physiology/Medicine and Physics. The winners – post-doctoral researchers in the early stages of their careers – are awarded $20,000 by the Ontario government.

More information about the 2014 Polanyi Prizes are available through the Council of Ontario Universities website.