Job title: Assistant Professor, Department of Physiology and Pharmacology, and Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary
Why he’s a 2020 Top 40 Under 40: Dr. Antoine Dufour leads groundbreaking research looking for the signatures of inflammatory diseases to find the right drug for the right person at the right time.
As a kid, Dr. Antoine Dufour wanted to be a hockey player, a scientist and an artist when he grew up. Now, that’s exactly what he is. Dufour, who grew up in Quebec City, was drafted to play junior hockey in Saskatchewan at 17. He spent three years playing junior, while working on his English and reading about quantum physics for fun. “I’m like a kid in a candy store with science,” he says.
Hockey led to a NCAA scholarship at the State University of New York at Oswego where he studied chemistry. Later, during his PhD, Dufour fell head over heels for a complex area of health research called proteomics. His research led to two US patents for novel cancer therapies.
Today, with his own lab at UCalgary, Dufour focuses on proteases, the molecular scissors that snip or change proteins to alter their function, often due to disease. He works on multidisciplinary teams exploring things like multiple sclerosis, cancer, the effects of exercise on disease and now COVID-19. “It’s like solving puzzles. We have, say, 30 pieces of the puzzle but we don’t know how many pieces the puzzle has yet,” says Dufour.
He uses his hands in the air to illustrate the way an immune cell grabs hold of bacteria. “Most people don’t get to see that kind of beauty in the way things work,” he says. “But we get this little window of understanding and it’s super exciting.”
Dufour sees failure as a critical step in every success. “Success is not a straight line. Your failures affect you more and then dictate what you’re going to do next,” he says.
He made that artist thing happen, too. He has written two books and is working on a third, and also does scientific photography. “I value diverse art forms as a scientist because it’s an efficient way to explain challenging concepts to a non-scientific audience,” says Dufour.