Christine Bear is a senior scientist and co-director of the SickKids Cystic Fibrosis Center in Toronto, Canada and a Professor of Physiology at the University of Toronto. Cystic fibrosis (CF) is a genetic disease caused by mutations in the CFTR gene, which makes a protein that acts as a channel to transport chloride into & out of cells, helping control salt and fluid balance. Patients with CF can’t keep the mucus in their lungs moist so the cilia can’t beat to “sweep out” bacteria and other microorganisms so patients with CF accumulate thick mucus that makes breathing difficult and infections common.
We know a lot about “how” different CFTR mutations cause CF in large part to Dr. Bear. She developed methods to purify the protein and reconstitute it in vitro. This allowed her to study how the channel normally works and, with a system in place to test its function, she was able to see how different mutations affect that function. And – excitingly – how small molecules might be able to improve its function for use as a therapy for CF patients.
Because different types of mutations affect the protein differently, Dr. Bear helped start and serves as Director of C-FIT, a program at Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto, Canada that’s working to develop personalized CF therapies. They collect cells from CF patients and turn them into stem cells they can then grow into different types of cells. This allows them to study them, test them, and screen potential drugs against them.
Bear was raised in earned an undergraduate degree from the University of Toronto, then a masters in immunology at McGill University, then returned to U of T to earn a PhD. She then performed postdoctoral research at the University of Calgary before joining the faculty at U of T in 1988.
You can hear an interview with her on the RawTalk podcast: