Western News-The West pays tribute to scientist Mede at the fall rally

2021-11-13 06:40:29 By : Ms. Sunrise Yu

It was once considered the "Holy Grail of Immunology." But in 1984, scientist Tak Mak stopped this exploration and discovered the T cell receptor (TCR), which is a key determinant of the immune response.  

This discovery led to the understanding of human immunology and how to manipulate it in a variety of situations such as autoimmunity, transplantation, and cancer.

Western will recognize Mak's extraordinary scientific career, spanning the fields of biochemistry, virology, genetics, cancer metabolism, and clinical treatment, and will award an honorary degree at a fall rally on Friday, October 22. (See below for more complete assembly details.) 

Also awarded honorary doctorates are writer and visual artist Shani Mootoo, historian Natalie Zemon Davis, and lawyer and community philanthropist Janet Stewart. 

Mak once compared the search for TCR with the hardship described in Lewis Carroll's poem "The Hunting of the Snark", in which adventurers searched for a kind on a remote island The elusive creature. 

"On a personal level," Mak wrote in 2007, "capturing this snake allowed me to embark on what may be the most fascinating journey in biological science." 

Mai was born in southern China and grew up in Hong Kong. He received his bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Wisconsin (Madison) and his doctorate from the University of Alberta. Under the guidance of Ernest McCulloch and James Till, who discovered hematopoietic stem cells, he did postdoctoral work at the Ontario Cancer Institute. 

Currently, Mai is the director of the Campbell Family Breast Cancer Institute, a senior scientist at Princess Margaret Hospital, and a professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics and Immunology at the University of Toronto. 

Mak's first job in the laboratory was as a young biochemistry student washing dishes. He makes $1.25 an hour to clean test tubes and beakers for one of his early mentors, Roland Rueckert, a virologist. When there were no more dishes to wash, Rueckert invited Mak to help conduct research experiments at the same wage rate.  

"That marked the beginning of my scientific career," said Mai, who co-authored his first paper in 1974 with Rueckert. His pioneering work on T cell receptors fundamentally changed the immune system. The understanding and accelerated development of cancer treatments only a decade ago. 

In 1995, Mak and his team used genetically modified "knockout mice" to define the function of a protein receptor that downregulates T cell responses and establishes immune checkpoints. This discovery led to the development of checkpoint inhibitors, which apply unique molecular methods to cancer immunotherapy and have now entered clinical practice.  

Mak's team continues to identify and develop new classes of anti-cancer drugs that aim to take advantage of genomic instability (caused by defects in certain processes that control the way cells divide) and the metabolic adaptability of aggressive cancers. Some new research drugs have been approved and are undergoing clinical trials. The transformation of this innovative method from basic research laboratory to clinical is a rare and well-known achievement in the field of translational medicine.  

In 2017, Mai co-founded Agios Pharmaceuticals with others, and its leukemia drug IDHIFA became the first clinically approved targeted cancer metabolic therapy. 

Link the immune system to the brain 

Recently, Mak's laboratory made a breakthrough discovery, showing that the brain communicates with the immune system through the T cell population that produces the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, and this process plays a key role in maintaining effective antiviral immunity. They believe that immune cells use acetylcholine to trigger a chemical chain reaction, relax blood vessels, and open the door to infected tissues. This discovery has solved a century of mystery and has far-reaching significance for understanding cancer, autoimmune diseases and neurodegenerative diseases. 

In 2000, Mai became an official of the Order of Canada, and was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in 2004. In 2018, he was awarded the Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR) Golden Leaf Discovery Award. 

During his career, Mak pointed out that his greatest honor is to work with his mentors, peers and students to solve some of the most challenging medical problems of our time.  

In an interview with the academic journal "Cell Death and Differentiation" in 2020, Mak said: "We are witnessing one of the most exciting periods in the history of science. I am fortunate to have participated in the rapid progress of the past 40 years. I am grateful to thousands of people. Our fellow scientists have worked tirelessly to reveal the inner workings of normal and abnormal cells." 

Western will celebrate graduating students with a virtual fall gathering starting at 7pm Eastern Time on Friday, October 22nd. The pre-recorded ceremonies for the three specific degrees will be posted online on the Western Fall 2021 rally page, allowing graduates, their families and loved ones to watch the ceremonies applicable to them at any time. Each ceremony will include celebratory music performed by Convocation Brass, administrative staff and faculty on stage, and speeches from this year's honorary degree recipients.   

A speaker will announce the name of each graduating student, which will also be displayed on separate slides throughout the ceremony. About 3,000 graduates will join 328,000 Western alumni from more than 160 countries. Graduates will receive their parchment by mail.   

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Western University 1151 Richmond Street London, Ontario, Canada, N6A 3K7 Tel: 519-661-2111

Contact UsPrivacy|Network Standard|Terms of Use|Accessibility