Research at the Lady Davis InstituteSpring 2015

Partnership supports cancer-fighting
power of protein analysis

“Give me a drop of blood and I’ll tell you the best medication to treat your cancer,” says Dr. Christoph Borchers with a smile. “Our advanced tools are so sensitive that we can quantify 330 proteins from that single drop, and this offers new insights into cancer treatment.”

Since arriving earlier this year at the Lady Davis Institute (LDI) of the JGH, Dr. Borchers has established the first pan-Canadian proteomics program, developed through a partnership between the LDI and the University of Victoria–Genome BC Proteomics Centre. This represents a major advance in personalized medicine—custom-tailoring cancer treatments to meet the needs of individual patients—which is being developed in the Segal Cancer Centre at the JGH.

Dr. Borchers, one of the world’s leading proteomic scientists, holds the McGill-Segal Chair in Molecular Oncology, as well as serving as Director of the BC Proteomics Centre. “Rather than duplicating the equipment that we have in Victoria, the ideal solution is to use those facilities to analyze tumour samples from JGH patients and to make the most efficient use of both institutions’ strengths,” he says.

Great strides have already been made in genomics, which enables researchers to analyze genetic mutations that are active in the cancer of a particular patient, thereby enabling a personalized treatment program to be devised. Proteomics delves even deeper by revealing which proteins have been modified within the mutated gene. Based on the protein profile, the best possible therapeutic approach to treatment can then be developed.

“By correlating a genomic profile with a proteomic profile, we can determine very quickly and accurately which proteins in the tumour should be targeted,” Dr. Borchers explains. “This allows us to devise treatments that are most likely to be effective for each individual patient. We can also modify the treatment as a tumour evolves.”

The novel technologies that Dr. Borchers uses in quantitative proteomics and in identifying proteins were developed by him and his team at the University of Victoria–Genome BC Proteomics Centre. Before these proteins can be used clinically, they will be validated in the Dubrovsky Molecular Pathology Centre at the JGH. Ultimately, the biomarkers can also be evaluated in the Clinical Research Unit of the Segal Cancer Centre for their potential in the development of new drugs.

Dr. Borchers says that with new technologies making greater use of proteomics in the clinic, the LDI and the JGH are placing themselves at the forefront of the field. This pioneering work could become a model for other hospitals in treating cancer and other diseases, he adds.

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