Date of Birth: 23rd Feb 1934
CARBOHYDRATE: a chemical substance made up of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen. Living things use simple carbohydrates (sugars) to provide energy and complex carbohydrates (like starch and cellulose) to make up various physical structures
CEREBRAL MALARIA: a disease spread by mosquitoes, which affects the brain, and is caused by Trypanosoma brucei, a microscopic parasite called a protist. The disease causes high fever and coughing, and can be fatal.
CHEMICAL SYNTHESIS: the use of chemical reactions to create complex chemical compounds from simpler ones
HETERO-OLIGOSACCHARIDE: A compound made up of three to ten simple sugar molecules, with one or more of these sugars differing from the others. Hetero-oligosaccharides are used in producing food supplements and animal feed, and living cells use them to transmit information.
MYCOBACTERIA: a genus of bacteria that causes several dangerous diseases including tuberculosis and leprosy
SLEEPING SICKNESS: a potentially fatal disease found in Central and Western Africa that is spread by the tsetse fly. Symptoms include fever, headaches, organ failure, and irregular sleep.
TUBERCULOSIS: an infectious disease of humans and animals caused by the bacteria Mycobacterium tuberculosis which usually affects the lungs. Also known as TB, it is usually accompanied by violent coughing, pale skin, and fever.
A great lover of music, Bertram Fraser-Reid spent most of his spare time in secondary school listening to jazz instead of studying!
Caribbean Icons in STI Volume 2
In 1998, Dr Bertram Fraser-Reid became the only Jamaican to be nominated for a Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He contributed to over 300 research publications during his career, and did important research on the energy-supplying substances that are called complex carbohydrates. He found that they could be used to make many types of chemicals, paints, medicines and plastics.
Bertram Fraser-Reid was born on 23rd February 1934 in Bryce, Jamaica. He attended Excelsior School and then Clarendon College. An average student who saw no real reason to apply himself, he found his calling when he bought the book Teach Yourself Chemistry. He received assistance from his siblings and a family friend to study at Queen’s University in Canada, where he completed both his bachelor’s and master’s degree in chemistry. After completing his Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Chemistry at the University of Alberta, he left Canada to pursue advanced laboratory training at the University of London, England.
Dr Fraser-Reid returned to Canada to start work on carbohydrate research. His studies focused on using carbohydrates to make complex materials such as plastics. He also discovered how to use carbohydrates to repel certain insects from plants that they would normally attack, providing a safe way to protect crops without using insecticides. In 1980, he joined the University of Maryland in the USA and remained there until 1982, conducting research on substances that could be used to halt or slow the growth of cancers.
Dr Fraser-Reid later worked at Duke University in North Carolina, where he and his team discovered a chemical compound that would assist in understanding the deadly disease known as sleeping sickness. This discovery earned him the Nobel Prize nomination.
In 1996, after retiring from Duke University, he founded the non-profit Natural Products and Glycotechnology Research Institute in North Carolina, which he currently heads. This group researches and develops strategies to fight diseases in developing countries. In 2004, the institute synthesized the chemical that is suspected to give cerebral malaria its deadliness and in 2005, it successfully produced two of the carbohydrates that are found on the tuberculosis bacteria – an important step in finding a vaccine against this deadly disease. In the following year, Dr Fraser-Reid led a team of four that constructed the largest ever synthetic hetero-oligosaccharide, a compound that may lead to a greater understanding of the working of mycobacteria.
Dr Fraser-Reid advises that, “There is no substitute for hard work and even that may not be enough!” He adds, borrowing from Milton Berle, that “if there is no door open to you, make your own door.”