Dr. Robert Kisilevsky, a professor of Pathology at Queen University and a scientist in the Syl and Molly Apps Research Building at Kingston General Hospital, is a world-leading researcher in the field of abnormal protein structure, in particular the amyloids. Amyloids are abnormal needle-like protein deposits found in the tissues of several human diseases, the most common of which are Alzheimer’s disease and adult-onset diabetes. They are formed by transformation of normal proteins in the presence of specific binding by a second substance, called glycosaminoglycans. These abnormal proteins, when deposited, interfere with cell function.
Dr. Kisilevsky’s work has involved the discovery of the mechanisms of formation of these abnormal protein deposits, and the formulation of compounds which remove them and block their formation. His discoveries, which have been shown to be successful in the test tube, in cell culture and in living animals, have led to the foundation of a biotechnology company, Neurochem Inc. in 1993 at Queen’s University. This company, now publicly traded and based in Montreal, is responsible for commercializing these anti-amyloid compounds, and has turned out to be one of the most successful emerging biotechnology companies in Canada. Founded entirely on the work of Dr. Kisilevsky and his colleague, Dr. Walter Szarek, in the Department of Chemistry, Neurochem is presently conducting clinical trials with three compounds for their effect on Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral hemorrhages and a systemic form of amyloidosis that complicates rheumatoid arthritis. These trials are in Phase 2 and Phase 3 stages of assessment.
Dr. Kisilevsky has had uninterrupted funding from the MRC/CIHR since 1969, a record few investigators in Canada can match. He has had numerous other grants funded from the NIH in the USA, Neurochem, the Alzheimer’s Society, the Kidney Foundation, and from various drug companies. He is currently also funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation for his work on malaria, as he has discovered that the malaria parasite enters red blood cells using a very similar binding mechanism to that described for the amyloid/glycosaminoglycan reaction. Blocking this binding may lead to the treatment of malaria. Spin-off work from this project has also shown that some proteins involved in amyloid are also involved in the metabolism of cholesterol during the development of atherosclerosis. Dr. Kisilevsky’s work is an outstanding example of basic science leading to clinical relevance and resulting in both extraordinary clinical and commercial benefits to society.