Top 40 Under 40 - David Vocadlo, 37
Apr 28, 2011
THE GLOBE AND MAIL - April 28, 2011
David Vocadlo didn’t start out wanting to be a chemist. “I wanted to be an architect and was very enthusiastic about the idea.” It was an article in Scientific American that changed his focus; the story was about proteins that regulate genes being turned on and off. “Thinking of how these tiny proteins bind to DNA in a very specific way and so play critical roles in biology was amazing to me.”
Dr. Vocadlo was born in Brantford, Ont., to a Czech father and a Finnish mother who met in Canada. Growing up, he lived overseas and in Montreal and Vancouver, thanks to his father’s work as an academic and consulting engineer.
Currently on sabbatical in France, Dr. Vocadlo says there was no real plan for his professional trajectory until he “… became fired up about biochemistry and chemistry at the end of my undergraduate studies.” Things were refined with the decision to go to grad school; working as a lab technician before starting graduate studies helped him focus still further. “I had the opportunity to interact with a number of scientists and see different types of biochemistry, molecular biology, and chemistry being carried out.”
His current research focuses on understanding processes that could enable new treatments for serious diseases such as Alzheimer’s and bacterial infections. Specifically, his lab is developing new chemical tools that enable researchers to study the role of specialized sugars in health and disease.
In addition to research and teaching, Dr. Vocadlo is co-founder of Alectos Therapeutics Inc., a small-molecule drug development company that is a spinoff enterprise from his SFU research.
“Starting up a biotechnology company was a big undertaking, tremendously exciting, but time intensive,” he adds. “It has worked out well in part because I was fortunate to work with a really good partner [Ernest McEachern] to get it going.”
His favourite thing in life? “Without a doubt it is my children.” He and his wife Krystyna have two children under 5, a boy and a girl.
And professionally? “When you really dig into what we know and ask ‘Why?’ you very often and very quickly run into the answer ‘We don't know.’ To me, that is exciting.”