The fight against viral infections: The Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology prepares to celebrate its first year

(Edmonton) Nearly a year after the University of Alberta received the largest cash gift in its history, from the Li Ka Shing (Canada) Foundation—which, along with five other donations, led to the creation of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology—the inaugural director of the Institute, Lorne Tyrrell, is excited about the progress that is already being made.

“We want to become among the leaders in the world in virology discoveries and cures,” said Tyrrell, who spoke about the work of the institute during a lecture at the U of A’s Calgary Centre March 8. The lecture audience largely comprised academics, clinicians and others involved in research and treating viral infections in Calgary.

Tyrrell, who will be inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame this spring, shared information about the work being done at the institute in an effort to treat and cure persistent viral infections, primarily hepatitis B (HBV) and hepatitis C (HCV). In Canada, there are approximately 300,000 people living with HBV and 240,000 with HCV. Worldwide estimates of chronic carriers of HBV are 400 million and HCV is 170 million. 

“I feel we can truly make a difference,” said Tyrrell, who foresees that the research being done on hepatitis C worldwide may result in cures of up to 90 per cent of cases within the next five to 10 years.

Leading the way in hepatitis virology research at the institute is Michael Houghton, who co-discovered the hepatitis C virus and was recruited to the U of A as a Canada Excellence Research Chair. Houghton is an internationally acclaimed researcher in his field and is helping to generate key collaborations between the U of A and other institutes provincially, nationally and internationally. Tyrrell says this work as being extremely important to the overall success of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology.

“We must seek great collaborators in order to achieve the results we want and to push our research forward,” said Tyrrell. “At the same time we must remember that teaching and research need to be complementary to one another. Some of the ideas for our best research have come from teaching, and graduate students and post-doctoral fellows have their fingerprints on most of our significant discoveries.”

The future of the Li Ka Shing Institute of Virology appears promising says Tyrrell and, thanks to additional funding from the Government of Alberta’s Community Initiatives Program and the federal government, construction is nearly complete in the remaining space that the institute will eventually occupy at the U of A.

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