Dr. Mark Reed and Dr. Valerie Wallace
Dr. Valerie Wallace is working with Dr. Mark Reed of the Krembil Research Institute’s Centre for Medicinal Chemistry and Drug Discovery. (Photo: The Globe and Mail)

What if there were a protein that could influence eye development, slow the growth of brain tumours and allow doctors to get medications more directly to the brain?

After years of trial and error in her lab, Dr. Valerie Wallace has made a series of important discoveries about Norrin, a protein involved in neurological signalling for the eye, brain and ear. Now, she's leading the world in research on this protein that could hold the key to a range of vision-preserving and life-saving applications.

Discoveries of this sort require a willingness to keep asking questions, notes Dr. Wallace, co-director of the Donald K. Johnson Eye Institute at UHN, and the Donald K. Johnson Chair in Vision Research.

"Sometimes you need to be wrong in order to be right," says Dr. Wallace. "I'm often surprised, I tell my lab.

"I'm very curious by nature."

Until recently, it would have been up to other researchers or pharmaceutical companies to build on Dr. Wallace's ideas and make products for market, such as medications.

Not any longer. Dr. Wallace is working with UHN's Krembil Research Institute's Centre for Medicinal Chemistry and Drug Discovery (CMCDD) to find small molecules that target Norrin – the early steps to making a drug. The CMCDD was established in 2018 to help more homegrown discoveries make it to market.

Dr. Wallace and Dr. Mark Reed are working together to make sure the basic science about this protein doesn't get forgotten, or end up a profitable innovation for another organization.

"There's so much excellent research going on at UHN, and some of it never gets translated," says Dr. Reed, a medicinal chemist and scientist who heads up the CMCDD. "We can take some of these new, therapeutic targets and commercialize them right here."

Read more about the work of Drs. Wallace and Reed

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