Life or death chosen at flick of biological switch
In his breakthrough research on senescence (biological aging), John Thompson has determined how life or death is chosen at the flick of a molecular switch.
Thompson, professor emeritus of biology and associate vice-president of university research, has discovered that a gene called eukaryotic translation initiation factor 5A (eIF5A) encodes a protein that appears to function like a biological switch, regulating cell death or survival.
Further research showed that the sequence of the eIF5A gene in animals and humans is virtually identical to that in plants, meaning that its function has been highly conserved across the plant and animal kingdoms,” he says.
It has shown great promise as a therapy for various healthcare applications,” he says. “Studies with animal models have indicated that eIF5A technology can be used to treat a broad range of cancers, as well as inflammatory diseases such as arthritis and sepsis.
Upon realizing the broad application of the technology, Thompson co-founded Senesco Technologies, a start-up company which aims to improve commercial agriculture and treat major medical conditions in humans. Senesco has experienced considerable success, forming partnerships with well-known companies such as Bayer CropScience and Monsanto, and with medical centres such as the Mayo Clinic.
With his contributions recognized internationally, a humble Thompson likes to share credit for his accomplishments.
I have to pay tribute to the wonderful students, post-doctoral fellows, and research associates I’ve worked with along the way,” he says. “The research we’ve done has enabled us to collaborate with some of the best senior scientists and biotech companies in the world.