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Dr. Werner Ens & Dr. Ken Standing

Location: Winnipeg, MB

Award: Principal Award

Category:

Year: 2010

Innovation:

Recognized for their transformational innovations in mass spectrometry. Read the News Release and Media Backgrounder for additional information.

News Release

Manitoba Researchers Take Top Manning Innovation Award for Tools to Unlock Molecular Secrets from Barley to SARS

U of M Proteomics Gurus to be Honoured with National Award


WINNIPEG, MB - (September 3, 2010) The winners of this year’s $100K Encana Principal Award from the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation were announced today at Winnipeg’s Fort Garry Hotel by Foundation Trustee Ida Albo and Manitoba Chapter Chair Harry Schulz. University of Manitoba scientists, Drs. Ken Standing and Werner Ens will receive their award in Ottawa later this month. The coveted innovation prize, one of the largest in Canada, recognizes the researchers' pivotal advancements in technologies to study proteins, as seen in analytical equipment used by biology and medical research labs around the world.

Instruments using the Manitoba innovations have been employed in a wide range of proteomics research, including drug development and disease studies, as well as agricultural applications. Collaborations the Standing-Ens group itself has participated in include evaluations of cancer treatments, studies of tissue transplant rejection, understanding disease resistance in wheat, and recently, development of improved methods of biofuel production. The Standing-Ens research team was the first to describe SARS virus proteins, thus providing key evidence about how the virus infects cells.

“There is widespread evidence and agreement that there is a critical need for more innovation in Canada,” says Ida Albo, Trustee of the Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation. Albo adds, “encouraging, supporting and celebrating Canadian innovation contributes to strengthening the capacity of Canadians.” The Foundation, named after the former Alberta Premier, has provided over $4.2 million in awards, celebrated 225 adult and youth award winners and has had over 2,500 nominations in its 29-year history.

Premier Greg Selinger and University of Manitoba Vice President of Research Dr. Digvir Jayas were present to pay tribute to the winners at today’s announcement, made at 10:00 AM at the Fort Garry Hotel. This is the sixth time the Manning Innovation Awards have honoured Manitoba’s own. Previous wins include three Young Canadian Awards, two Innovation Awards and a Principal Award in 1989 to Dr. Frank Gunston, who pioneered total knee arthroplasty.

The work of Standing and Ens has played an integral role in the transformation of mass spectrometry into an effective tool to study proteins. This work began in 1979 as research that they hoped would someday change the study of medicine — though they did not anticipate it being a money-making venture. Under their direction, the Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry Laboratory made sophisticated advances in protein analysis. An eventual partnership with health and life science company MDS Sciex (now part of AB SCIEX) led to a series of internationally patented innovations and commercialized mass spectrometry instruments.

Dr. John Wilkins is the Director of the Manitoba Centre for Proteomics and Systems Biology and conducts a wide range of studies in biology, including biomedical research. He notes, "the really exciting thing about proteomics, mass spectrometry and the systems approach is that they have such broad perspectives, they permeate all aspects of biology."

Wilkins adds, "what Ken and Werner have done with the instruments that they've developed is to make it really practical for biologists such as myself to be able to probe biological systems in a way that I never thought would be feasible within the lifetime of my scientific career."

The Standing-Ens research team continues to provide mass spectrometry technologies that are being developed and licensed even today.

Standing and Ens will receive their award in Ottawa on September 17th, in front of an audience of Canadian innovators, elected officials, educators and business leaders at a gala hosted by Senator Pamela Wallin, OC, Preston Manning, CC and Bernard Lord.

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation (www.manningawards.ca) recognizes the importance of Canadian innovation in strengthening our nation’s capacity to compete in the global economy. The Foundation annually supports and celebrates Canadians with the imagination to innovate and the stamina to succeed.

NOTE TO MEDIA

For broadcast quality video clips and B roll of Drs. Standing and Ens, go to http://rcpt.yousendit.com/932129561/a76dca65bdb1392bc87e1b5516fef876&rcpt

or

http://umanitoba.ca/admin/public_affairs/videos/ENS_STANDING.mov

For photos, go to

http://rcpt.yousendit.com/939086447/2a1bba78de80e19ea23e487d6f2d9965&rcpt

For media backgrounders, go to

http://rcpt.yousendit.com/939906689/9865f6ae5c3c019d33116f65d161c773&rcpt

Contact:

Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation

Bruce Fenwick, Executive Director

M(403-390-9148)

T(403-645-8288)

Bruce.Fenwick@encana.com

--------------------------------

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation recognizes the importance of Canadian innovation in strengthening our nation's capacity to compete in the global economy. The Foundation supports and celebrates Canadians with the imagination to innovate and the stamina to succeed. Visit www.manningawards.ca for more information.
 

Media Backgrounder

$100,000 Encana Principal Award

Drs. Ken Standing and Werner Ens

The Why and How of Standing, Ens and Mass Spectrometry for Proteomics


In 1979, University of Manitoba Professor Ken Standing and then graduate student Werner Ens began research that they hoped would someday change the study of medicine. Under their direction, the Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry Laboratory made sophisticated advances in protein analysis. An eventual partnership with MDS Sciex (now part of AB SCIEX), a scientific instrumentation, software and services company for the life science, clinical research and industrial markets, led to a series of internationally patented innovations and commercialized mass spectrometry instruments. Their own research team was the first to describe SARS virus proteins, thus providing key evidence about how the virus infects cells.

Who?

  • Drs. Werner Ens and Kenneth Standing direct the Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry Laboratory in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at the University of Manitoba.
  • Standing, a Professor Emeritus, is an active researcher and a member of the Royal Society of Canada. He is a pioneer of various advances in mass spectrometry for protein analysis, including orthogonal MALDI and orthogonal TOF.
  • Ens, a physics professor, is an expert in mass spectrometry design. He contributed to advances in orthogonal TOF for proteomics, and is a co-inventor of orthogonal MALDI.

What?

 

  • Drs. Ken Standing and Werner Ens have won the 2010 $100K Encana Principal Award, the top Manning Innovation Award, for their improved mass spectrometer design for proteomics.

Where?

  • The Time-of-Flight Mass Spectrometry Laboratory is a member lab with the Manitoba Centre for Proteomics and Systems Biology, based at the University of Manitoba.
  • Instruments that use Standing and Ens’ technologies have benefitted biology and medical research labs around the world, including Canada (Mount Sinai Hospital and The Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, Ontario, for example), the United States, Israel, Denmark, Austria, Germany, and Australia.
  • AB SCIEX is an international company with an R&D centre (formerly part of Canadian health and life science company MDS Sciex) in Concord, Ontario.

When?

  • Work begun by Standing and Ens in 1979, and in particular, work on orthogonal TOF starting in the early 1990s, led to a university-industry partnership in the mid-1990s, and commercialization of key technologies in 2001.
  • Standing and Ens’s research team continues to provide mass spectrometry technologies that are being developed and licensed even today.

The "-omics" of the 21st Century

Proteomics is the study of proteins, the biomolecules that form the building blocks of cells and run the chemical reactions that sustain life. As genomics is to genes, proteomics is to proteins.

The analytical tools developed by Drs. Ken Standing and Werner Ens, have helped to clarify the molecular understanding of life that 21st Century proteomics provides.

Our genes are a blueprint for the structures and functions of the body. But genes tell only part of the story. When genes switch on and off, which parts of the genetic blueprint are used to build proteins and which are ignored are key questions of our time. One way to answer these questions is to examine proteins with mass spectrometry, or mass spec.

Standing and Ens's technological advancements in proteomics are embodied in mass spec instruments in medical research labs around the world. Early stage breast cancer, bacteria in Crohn's disease patients and drug development are just some of the areas of study to benefit from their innovations.

Their own research team, in 2003, was the first to describe SARS virus proteins, thus providing key evidence about how the virus infects cells. For this project the team used mass spec to find the sequence of amino acid “beads” that, strung together, make up a protein.

Today Ens is interested in developing methods to use mass spec to generate images of tissue samples showing where the proteins are located. “The hope is that such proteins or protein images can serve as biomarkers, useful for diagnosing diseases,” he explains.

Their mass spec innovations are also applied in biotechnology and agricultural research, to study everything from plant viruses to health-promoting compounds in barley. Ens has even used the technique to study proteins involved in brewing beer.

Standing, himself, is collaborating with the Cereal Research Centre of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada to understand grain diseases. Explains Standing, “we want to find out the mechanism of resistance at the protein level to pathogens.”

From the Basement Up

What stars have to align to bring together two guys with a talent for physics…and math, and chemistry, and biology?

Ken Standing credits his first physics teacher, a WWI vet with unfulfilled talents of his own, for fostering the teen’s interest in science. Notes Standing, he was one of two from his class at Winnipeg’s Daniel McIntyre high school to go on to a research career in physics.

However, says Standing, finding his way into science was a gradual process. “Through school and the first year or two of university, I kept dropping subjects… until finally I had only maths and physics left,” he relates. “The final event was my acceptance at Princeton… and learning the joys of research that first summer (1948) while working with Rubby Sherr, my supervisor there.”

Lucky for Canada, Standing returned to his alma mater, the University of Manitoba, as an assistant professor in 1953.

Werner Ens, who would become Standing’s grad student, discovered “the joys of research” earlier on. When he was about ten, his parents bought him a chemistry set. “I set up a very smelly ‘chemistry lab’ in our basement, complete with garden hose plumbing,” confesses Ens. “Later I was given an electronics kit with a soldering iron, and disassembled as many radios and stereos as I was allowed,” he says, adding “I had only limited success with the re-assembly part.”

It was only natural that Ens would take up math and physics at the nearby University of Winnipeg. Soon, at the University of Manitoba, the boy who “wanted to be a scientist as long as I can remember,” would meet a mentor with remarkable vision.

An Idea Takes Flight

“When we started this business, there was no idea at all it would ever be worth any money,” says Standing, describing the fundamental research he and then graduate student Werner Ens began at the University of Manitoba in 1979.

At the time, Standing, a nuclear physicist, was working with Brian Chait (now at New York’s Rockefeller University) on a way to use mass spectrometry to study wheat proteins. Mass spectrometry, or mass spec, is a method to determine the composition of samples. In particular, Standing and Chait were working on time-of-flight, or TOF, mass spec, a technique that involves vaporizing a sample and sending the resulting gas of tiny, electrically charged bits, called ions, flying along a high-tech race track. The order in which the ions reach the other end reveals what they are made of.

The weird interdisciplinary research was raising some eyebrows in the physics department. “The nuclear physicists didn’t have much use for what we were doing,” laughs Standing.

But Ens, on the lookout for a grad school placement, saw things differently. “It was the most innovative project going on,” he recalls, “and it seemed to have a very bright future.” Chait and Standing’s excitement had drawn him in: If they could get mass spec to work properly to identify plant proteins, then why not human proteins? Or viral proteins?

The problem was, when it came to analyzing relatively large biomolecules, such as proteins, early TOF techniques did not work very well.

With the 1980s developments in electrospray at Yale University, and the invention of MALDI in Germany, it became possible to produce ions from large biomolecules without destroying their form and structure. This was the start of a new era in mass spec. However, there were still some important bugs to work out.

Says Ens, "the performance of time-of-flight was highly dependent on a lot of instrumental parameters, and so it was very much an art to get a good spectrum."

Even with electrospray or MALDI, accurate TOF measurements were hard to get because it was like a race in which some runners were thrown out of the starting gate and others started flat on their backs. To level the playing field, Standing and Ens decided to separate the ion source from the TOF analyzer and introduce two key innovations: a quadropole ion guide used to cool the ions, and orthogonal injection, to introduce the ions at a right angle to the “racetrack”. With these innovations, the ions would all start the race with their “feet” on the starting line.

Partners in Time-of-Flight

In the early days, say Standing and Ens, securing funding for their research wasn’t easy. The physicists didn’t consider the work physics, the chemists didn’t see it as chemistry, and the medical scientists didn’t see it as medical science.

Even so, says Ens, Standing’s vision kept them going. “(He had) the ability to see there was a real potential in the field,” Ens relates. Keen to keep at it, Ens had returned to the lab within a year of obtaining his PhD in 1984.

Funding from US National Institutes of Health helped the research to advance. Then, in 1994, a major NSERC grant allowed the scientists to put their research into action. In partnership with MDS Sciex (now AB SCIEX), Standing and Ens developed a series of internationally patented innovations, commercialized as the QSTAR® line of spectrometers.

“We had an excellent team of people working on it,” says Ens. One of the key patents includes inventors Andrew Krutchinksy, Alexandre Loboda and Victor Spicer, along with Standing and Ens.

In the years that followed, hundreds of the high tech instruments sold to academic, government and industrial labs around the world.

In the mean time, the TOF research lab has been kept busy by grants from diverse sources, including NSERC, Cangene, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Genome Canada, the Brewing and Malting Barley Research Institute and the Manitoba Association of Agricultural Societies.

Along with their proteomics research, Standing and Ens’s team continues to provide mass spectrometry technologies that are being developed and licensed even today.

------------------------------

The Ernest C. Manning Awards Foundation
(www.manningawards.ca) recognizes the importance of Canadian innovation in strengthening our nation’s capacity to compete in the global economy. The Foundation supports and celebrates Canadians with the imagination to innovate and the stamina to succeed.