Few universities in the world can match McGill’s achievements in medical research, and nowhere is this more evident than in the field of cancer. In the past few years alone, researchers at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre have made several landmark discoveries. Highlights of these discoveries include:

 

A research team lead by Morag Park and Michael Hallett has identified various gene profiles that could help to readily identify types of breast cancer. In addition to providing back-up identification to pathologists, this discovery will help oncologists choose the most effective treatment types for individual cases.

Led by Gordon Shore and Philip Branton, a team of the Centre’s scientists have identified a unique mechanism that tumour cells use to resist treatment and developed a new drug – Obatoclax (GX15-070) – that promotes cancer cell death. The drug is potentially effective in treating various cancers and is currently undergoing clinical trials for use in combating advanced chronic lymphocytic leukemia and small-cell lung cancer.

Researchers working with Nahum Sonenberg and Russell Jones have discovered that the effect of certain cancer treatments can be dramatically improved when combined with specific treatments for metabolic disease. They have tested a drug – Metformin – that significantly enhances cancer treatment outcomes. Ongoing research is targeting other genes that affect the interaction between cancer cells and their energy sources. Metabolic diseases, such as obesity, are the second highest risk factor for cancer after tobacco.

The discovery that animals with a specific deletion in their HD-PTP gene will develop lung cancer, has led researchers in the labs of Michel Tremblay and Arnim Pause to examine whether lung cancer patients also present such genetic alterations in their tumours.

Researchers working with Xiang-Jiao Yang are studying how cell signaling regulates chromatin modification, transcription and other activities in the nucleus of normal and cancer stem cells. Their findings that certain enzymes – including histone acetyltransferace and histone deacetylases – provide novel forms of cancer therapy that are being actively evaluated in numerous clinical trials.

Over a decade ago, the laboratory of Nahum Sonenberg discovered that the elF4e protein – when phosphorylated – was an important factor in aggressive cancer. This has been substantiated by the recent identification of this protein in prostate, breast and colon cancers.

Nearly 60% of cancer patients develop muscle wasting syndrome – cachexia – that often causes painful inflammation. By developing blood and urine banks from late-diagnosed cancer patients, a research team led by Imed Gallouzi and Jerry Pelletier is working to identify genetic markers that predict cachexia and could ultimately lead to the development of novel treatments that will prolong and improve the quality of life for cancer patients.

Using complex trait mapping techniques, Philippe Gros and Nicole Beauchemin have identified several genes that promote colon cancer development in humans. Since these genes also cause colon cancer in certain animals, researchers have been able to test novel colon cancer therapies.

Michel Tremblay and his researchers have identified that the PTP1B gene is a key factor in diabetes, obesity and in breast and prostate cancers. This has led to the development and clinical trials of PTP1B inhibitors. Trials have reached phase 3 with type-2 diabetes and have achieved similar success with obesity (phase 2) and cancer (phase 1).

The phenomenon of metastasis – a key issue in breast cancer – is especially severe when cancer cells invade the bones. The laboratory of Peter Siegel is working to identify the molecules and mechanisms that breast cancer cells use to invade the bones. He has successfully identified several key regulators that could, in the near future, lead to the development of molecules or biological agents to prevent the initial cancer cell invasion.

Additional discoveries made by GCRC researchers:

• Cloning and characterization of gene coding for transporters involved in the acquisition of multidrug resistance.
• Cloning and characterization of the gene coding for the human tumor marker carcinoembryonic antigen (CEA); discovery and elucidation of tumorigenic properties.
• Demonstration of tumor-suppressing activity of the biliary glycoprotein (BGP).
• Isolation and characterization of mammalian origins of DNA replication.
• Identification of vertebrate Hox proteins as transcriptional activators.
• Characterization of enzymes involved in protein glycosylation.
• Identification of the WT1 tumor suppressor gene product as a transcriptional repressor involved in Wilm's tumor in children.
• Identification and characterization of proteins involved in the positive and negative regulation of T-lymphocyte activation.
• Identification of translational elements as oncogenes; modulating genes implicated in translation machinery and cancer.
• Polycistronic elements in eukaryotic messengers {{IRES}}.
• Identification of novel PTPases in cancer, diabetes, obesity and neuronal regeneration.
• Identification of p53 independent apoptotic inducers.