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top 40 under 40

Brian Coombes, Assistant professor and Associate Chair, McMaster University Department of Biochemistry and Biomedical Sciences, Hamilton.McMaster University

Each year, Caldwell Partners International chooses 40 Canadians who were under 40 in the past year to honour for their outstanding achievements. Click here to learn more about the program, and find more winners in the list below.

As a child at the family cottage on Lake Nipissing, Brian Coombes was fascinated with the aquatic life at his doorstep. "My younger sister and I studied the minnows and the crayfish, and I guess that sort of kindled a love of biology and the natural world," he says. Although he decided to become a medical doctor, a third-year summer job in a research facility at Hamilton's McMaster University brought him into "an environment where biology came back to me. I really got interested in doing experiments," he recalls. "I think it marries a love of life sciences with creativity, and there's a lot of creativity necessary to do science."

Dr. Coombes's creativity is now directed toward the study of creatures much smaller than a minnow. After three years working as a research scientist for the Public Health Agency of Canada between 2006 and 2009, he returned to McMaster. Today, he and a staff of 13 at his own lab inside the Michael DeGroote Institute for Infectious Disease Research are looking at pathogenic bacteria, the kind that enter the human body and cause serious havoc. In particular, Dr. Coombes looks at the countermeasures those pathogens have evolved to defend themselves and withstand the human immune system's attempts to kill them off. "Our approach is to study what happens at that interface between the host and the pathogen," he explains.

His work has repercussions in a world where new virulent bacteria are not only popping up continually, but have proven to be increasingly unfazed by many existing antibiotics. With $345-million in sponsored research, Dr. Coombes's long-term goal is to someday develop his research to a point "where we could potentially have an opportunity to improve people's health through the creation of new knowledge," he says, "but also new antimicrobials, new ways to combat the evolution of infections."

As a teacher, Dr. Coombes is also in a position to train both graduate and undergraduate students who, like himself, are inspired by the challenges of fathoming the universe found beneath the lens of a microscope. The lake, meanwhile, is still a part of his life; in their spare time, Dr. Coombes and his wife, Megan, like to take their two young children, Lauren and Ben, sailing.

More winners:

  • Karen Bakker, 39
  • Keith Bilous, 39
  • Leonard Brody, 39
  • Naman Budhdeo, 38
  • Michael Burns, 39
  • Craig Campbell, 34
  • Norie Campbell, 39
  • Jody Campeau, 39
  • Cody Church, 39
  • Brian Coombes, 36
  • Matthew Corrin, 29
  • Frederick Dryden, 39
  • Dominic Giroux, 35
  • Deirdre Horgan, 38
  • Kyle Jeworski, 36
  • Nicholas Johnson, 38
  • Dr. Kirsten Johnson, 39
  • Kevin Li, 39
  • Stewart Lyons, 37
  • Muhammad Mamdani, 39
  • Andy McCreath, 35, and Christian Darbyshire, 35
  • Calvin McDonald, 39
  • Duke McKenzie, 35
  • Glori Meldrum, 37
  • Michele Mosca, 39
  • Suresh Narine, 39
  • Sean O'Reilly, 36
  • John Poulos, 36
  • Andrew Reid, 34
  • Gregory Roberts, 38
  • Angela Santiago, 39
  • Bradley Schwartz, 39
  • Leerom Segal, 31
  • Som Seif, 34
  • Natasha Sharpe, 39
  • Andrew Smith, 38
  • Steve Sousa, 39
  • Marie-Pier St-Hilaire, 33
  • David Vocadlo, 37
  • Nolan Watson, 31