Dr. Igor Stagljar Celebrated by a Prestigious Award in Native Croatia

May 30, 2016
Jovana Drinjakovic

Dr. Igor Stagljar, a professor in the University of Toronto’s Donnelly Centre, was awarded the Zdravko Lorkovic Plaque for outstanding contributions to biology – the highest accolade given by the Croatian Biological Society.

“I was born in Croatia but raised both in Croatia and Switzerland. The fact that Croatian scientific community gave me this prestigious award is a big honor for me since it recognizes the scientific contributions of my lab, which is located in Canada, in the emerging field of proteomics,” says Stagljar.

Professor Igor Stagljar after receiving the award in Zagreb Stagljar has dedicated his career to the study of membrane proteins which, tucked inside a layer that surrounds each cell and its inner structures, are often disrupted in disease. Proteins work in teams, but capturing these interactions as they occur in the cell’s natural environment has been challenging. And membrane protein interactions, in particular, have remained elusive because the proteins are lodged within a biochemically rich lipid layer - in stark contrast to the heavily studied free-moving proteins of the cell’s interior.

Stagljar’s team has developed technologies dubbed MYTH and MaMTH, for the membrane yeast two-hybrid, and the mammalian membrane two hybrid, respectively, with the latter allowing scientists to explore membrane protein interactions directly in human cells. These insights have shed light on the basic processes in the cell and how their breakdown contributes to disease. The system can also be applied to drug discovery, and Stagljar’s recent work has uncovered novel drug targets that might be used to rein lung cancers that have become resistant to available therapy.

MaMTH’s potential in understanding roots of disease earned Stagljar, who is also a professor in U of T’s Departments of Molecular Genetics and Biochemistry, a 2015 U of T Inventor of the Year award. The technology is also the force behind Protein Network Sciences, Stagljar’s Toronto-based biotech spin-off company.

Born in Zagreb, Croatia, Stagljar earned his B.A. at the University of Zagreb, before going on to do a PhD with Professor Markus Aebi at the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule (ETH) in Zürich, Switzerland. After starting his own research group at the University of Zürich in 2002, Stagljar moved to Toronto in 2005 to join the Donnelly Centre.

Stagljar received the Zdravko Lorkovic Plaque at the ceremony in Zagreb, Croatia, on May 25. Previous internationally renowned recipients of the Plaque include Dr. Miroslav Radman, of the University of Paris, who is a pioneer of the study of DNA repair mechanisms.

Dr. Zdravko Lorkovic (1900-1998) was a Croatian biologist, entomologist and geneticist. His study of butterflies (Lepidoptera) led to early insights into the differences among species on a cellular level, such as chromosomal number, and broadened the understanding of how different species form.