FPAS Prof. Katalin Hudak investigates pokeweed

Jason Guriel, York’s new NSERC (Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada) SPARK student (Students Promoting Awareness of Research Knowledge), has sent Y-File an article about biology Prof Katalin Hudak. A first-year graduate student in English, Guriel will be interviewing and writing stories on York NSERC-funded researchers throughout the year.

Katalin Hudak

Though humorously-named, pokeweed (an obscure plant native to shaded environments in the southern regions of Canada and the United States) may just prove to be one of the most effective weapons against HIV, one of the deadliest viruses of our time. Biology Prof. Katalin Hudak, Faculty of Pure & Applied Science, is one of a mere handful of scientists in the world currently studying the possible benefits of this curious plant.

Pokeweed contains a protein called simply, pokeweed antiviral protein, or PAP, and although many have been aware of PAP’s antiviral potential since 1928, researchers such as Hudak are only just discovering how PAP actually targets and kills viruses. Traditionally, scientists have believed that the antiviral property of PAP was due to its toxicity, that the protein would limit virus proliferation by destroying the host cell. Since the early 1990s, however, studies have begun to suggest that antiviral activity of PAP is separate from its toxicity, given that it is capable of limiting the spread of HIV without killing its host cell. In fact, PAP is already being used as a therapeutic drug against HIV in South Africa.

Hudak’s study of how PAP targets viruses is currently the only substantial one of its kind in Canada, and her findings may eventually help in manufacturing more antiviral medicines. Her research is yet another example of York University’s unconventional approach to the pursuit of knowledge, an approach that extends beyond traditional routes of inquiry.

By focusing on issues that have profound, relevant, real-world consequences for the physical health of Canadians, and indeed, people world-wide, York is redefining the pursuit of innovation. And redefining the possible.

SPARK is a program that was launched in 1999 at 10 universities across Canada. Through SPARK, students with an aptitude for communications are recruited, trained and paid to write stories based on the NSERC-supported research at participating universities.