Ben Blencowe Elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada
Professor Ben Blencowe has been elected fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (RSC) in recognition of outstanding scientific achievement.
Blencowe, Principal Investigator in the Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, is recognized for his pioneering contributions to the understanding of the regulation, function, and evolution of alternative splicing, an essential process by which genes generate vast repertoires of RNA and protein products. His work demonstrated the remarkable complexity of this process, elucidated a sequence code that controls splicing, and revealed programs of alternative splicing with critical roles in animal development and human disease.
“I'm truly honoured to receive this recognition, but it would not have happened without the dedication of an incredibly talented team of postdoctoral fellows, students, technicians and faculty collaborators that have helped drive our research program,” said Blencowe, who is also a professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Molecular Genetics. “Our research also would not be where it is without the outstanding and supportive working environment of the Donnelly Centre".
Fellowship in the RSC is one of the highest honours a Canadian researcher can achieve. Founded in 1882, the Society’s mission is to recognize scholarly, research and artistic excellence, as well as advise governments and organizations, and promote a culture of knowledge and innovation in Canada and with other national academies around the world.
“Ben is internationally recognized as world-leading in the field of mammalian gene regulation and has helped bring U of T to the forefront of genome biology research,” says Brenda Andrews, University Professor and Director of the Donnelly Centre. “His contributions to both fundamental discovery and technological advancement have greatly expanded our understanding of cellular processes in development and disease. On behalf of the Donnelly Centre, I congratulate him on this richly deserved honour.”
"I'm truly honoured to receive this recognition, but it would not have happened without the dedication of an incredibly talented team of postdoctoral fellows, students, technicians and faculty collaborators that have helped drive our research program" - Professor Ben Blencowe
Some of Blencowe’s key discoveries include how cells interpret the splicing code to make more protein molecules than there are genes in the genome. He also showed how this amplified molecular diversity acts as a driving force of organismal complexity in the development and evolution of vertebrates, and in particular in the shaping of the staggeringly complex mammalian brain. His team also discovered that alternative splicing controls the process by which stem cells become specialized cells in the body, a finding that has the potential to improve cell manufacturing for regenerative medicine. Blencowe’s team further uncovered how misregulation of alternative splicing during development can lead to neurological disorders such as autism. This research has raised prospects for a new therapeutic strategy for autism, a challenge his group is currently engaged in.
Blencowe holds Banbury Chair in Medical Research and has received several awards for his research excellence, including the Medical Research Council of Canada Scholar Award (1998), Ontario Premier’s Research Excellence Award (2000), Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences (CSMB) Senior Investigator Award (2011), and the NSERC John C. Polanyi Award (awarded by the Governor General of Canada in 2011 for his work on the splicing code). He currently serves on several advisory boards as well as editorial boards of high profile international journals.
New fellows will be inducted at the Society’s Celebration of Excellence in Winnipeg, Manitoba on November 24, 2017.