B. Brett Finlay
Microbiology and Immunology
One of the world's foremost experts on the molecular understanding of the ways bacteria infect their hosts
"To be a good scientist... You have to like doing experiments — and experiments are fun. You have to have a sheer desire to understand something."
Dr. Finlay is a leader in the science of cellular microbiology, an integration of biochemistry, molecular biology and microbiology. His innovative research on just how bacteria cause disease in people is resulting in new tools for fighting infection.
After receiving his PhD from the University of Alberta, Finlay accepted a postdoctoral position in medical microbiology at Stanford University, working under the renowned microbiologist, Dr. Stanley Falkow. Returning to Canada, he joined the Departments of Microbiology and Biochemistry at UBC, becoming an Associate Professor in 1994 and a full Professor in 1996.
Finlay is best known for his work with Salmonella and Escherichia coli. He has specialized in the strategies which these bacteria use in the early stages of infection, and how they avoid the host cells' self defence mechanisms. He was the first to discover, for example, that in addition to attaching to existing proteins on the cell membrane, E. coli creates its own receptor and injects that into the host cell. Visit the Howard Hughes Medical Institute website for some excellent animations showing how these processes work.
Both Salmonella and E. coli have strains which can be deadly to humans. Salmonella can cause diseases ranging from gastroenteritis to typhoid fever. E. coli is responsible for "hamburger disease", caused by eating undercooked hamburger. It was a strain of E. coli that was responsible for the deaths of 6 people and the illness of thousands in Walkerton, Ontario in 2000, when the area's drinking water supply became contaminated. Dr. Finlay's research on how this strain of E. coli attaches to intestinal cells led to the development of a vaccine for cattle which will reduce the threat of future outbreaks.
Image by: Freelance Illustrations and Graphics
In collaboration with pharmaceutical companies, Finlay's lab at UBC continues its work to identify compounds which will block bacterial infection and treat it once it has occured. In addition to his research, Finlay is a prolific author and tireless lecturer. Two of his particular interests are the dangerous and unnecessary overuse of antibiotics world-wide, and the desperate lack of clean water and good sanitation in countries in the Third World.