UBC’s Top Honour Goes to Microbe Fighter

UBC Reports | Vol. 48 | No. 14 | Dec.
5, 2002

By Hilary Thomson

UBC’s most prestigious academic honour — last held
by the late Michael Smith, Nobel laureate — has gone to a
bacterial disease researcher whose work could save the lives
of millions and protect Canada’s food and water supply
from contamination.
Prof. B. Brett Finlay has been named the Peter Wall Institute
Distinguished Professor in recognition of his career research

The professorship is valued at $100,000 per year for five
years on a renewable basis. It can be taken in any form for
salary or research support that is agreed upon by the recipient
and the vice-president, Academic.

An expert in food- and water-borne bacteria, he has developed
a cattle vaccine to prevent growth of E.coli – the bacteria
that entered Walkerton, Ontario’s water system in 2000,
killing seven people and causing hundreds to become ill. A
related strain of E.coli also causes infant diarrhea and kills
close to one million children annually worldwide.

This year Canadian Living magazine named him as one of the
10 Canadian scientists most likely to save your life.

“Brett’s stellar career achievements exemplify
research excellence at this university and indeed in Canada,”
says UBC President Martha Piper. “We are extremely proud
that this eminent researcher was attracted to UBC and remains
here to continue his important work and to mentor students
from a variety of disciplines.”

It is especially fitting that the honour was last held by
Dr. Smith – the person who brought Finlay to campus and whose
accomplishments continue to inspire both faculty and students,
adds Piper.

“This is an outstanding honour and privilege,”
says the 43 year-old researcher who is also a white-water
kayaker, a runner and a musician.

A professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and Microbiology
and Immunology, Finlay was recruited by Smith in 1989. His
research in UBC’s Biotechnology Laboratory focuses on
the interactions between disease-causing bacteria and their
host cells, looking at how these pathogens adhere, enter,
survive, replicate and exit the host cells.

One of his most significant discoveries was made in 1997
when he and his team reported the unprecedented finding that
E.coli bacteria inserts a protein into healthy host cells
to create an hospitable landing site for the bacteria. The
discovery paved the way for the cattle vaccine.

Finlay has also established a national initiative called
the Canadian Coalition for Safe Food and Water, which fosters
research to increase food and water safety.

Educated at the University of Alberta and at Stanford University
in California, Finlay is a winner of the E.W.R. Steacie Prize,
Canada’s top honour for young scientists and engineers.
He is also a Howard Hughes Medical Institute International
Research Scholar and a Fellow to the Academy of Science of
the Royal Society of Canada, this country’s senior academic

The Peter Wall Distinguished Professorship is given by the
Peter Wall Institute for Advanced Studies and was created
through a gift from Vancouver businessman Peter Wall. The
position honours research excellence that is fundamental,
interdisciplinary and innovative.