Pioneering effort to apply novel biotechnology to cancer research
The effort to find new biomarkers for cancer has received a major boost with the recent arrival at Lady Davis Institute (LDI) of Dr. Christoph Borchers and the development of the first pan-Canadian proteomics program. Proteomics uses biotechnology to analyze the structure, function and interactions of proteins produced by the genes of a particular cell, tissue or organism.
Any new discoveries will be validated in the Dubrovsky Molecular Pathology Centre at the JGH and, ultimately, will undergo therapeutic evaluation in the Clinical Research Unit of the Segal Cancer Centre at the JGH.
While he works in the LDI at the JGH, Dr. Borchers will continue to serve as Director of the University of Victoria – Genome BC Proteomics Centre. This has contributed to a partnership that is recognized by Genome Canada as a key player in a new national Genomics Innovations Network. The network aims to push the boundaries of technology in the study of genes, proteins and metabolism.
Dr. Borchers, one of the world’s leading proteomic scientists, also holds the McGill-Segal Chair in Molecular Oncology.
When protein expression within genes is studied, highly detailed data can be gleaned about the active mechanisms that are triggered within a patient’s tumour. Thus, proteomics holds the promise of providing deeper insights into the biological processes underlying cancer.
This will help to address medical needs that are currently unmet, while advancing the application of more effective personalized treatment strategies.
The Genomics Innovation Network will also support significant work in bioinformatics and computational biology, including attempts to overcome obstacles associated with the storage and analysis of “big data”.
Expansion of the Clinical Research Unit
This facility provides cancer patients with a chance for a cure or for improvement in the quality of their lives when no other options remain. At the same time, the CRU expands medical knowledge about the disease. Rapid expansion of the CRU is vital, owing to the growing incidence of cancer, an increase in the volume of patients, and the rapidly expanding number of new drugs to be studied.
Plans call for the CRU to be relocated to the sixth floor of the Segal Cancer Centre, next to the Dubrovsky Molecular Pathology Centre. The projected 75-per-cent increase in space will allow the CRU to provide more patients with access to cutting-edge treatments, plus more support for other clinical trials at the JGH.
The CRU will also be in a better position to assist the Molecular Pathology Centre in determining the full molecular character of a tumour, the main challenge in developing targeted therapies.
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“We are developing tests in Victoria, which we will validate with clinical samples at the LDI,” says Dr. Borchers, who is the first appointee to the Segal Family Chair in Molecular Oncology at McGill University.
“We can determine very quickly and accurately whether drugs are affecting the proteins that are active in a tumour. With a simple blood test, we correlate a genomic profile with a proteomic profile, giving us a very accurate diagnostic tool to help define a therapeutic strategy, and to modify it over time as a tumour evolves. This allows us to devise treatments that are most likely to be effective for each individual patient.”
“After years of effort, the technology to bring proteomics into the clinic with the required sensitivity and precision is finally emerging, and Professor Borchers is among the world’s leaders in making this possible,” says Dr. Gerald Batist, Director of the Segal Cancer Centre and Professor of Oncology at McGill.
“It is a major achievement for us to be at the forefront of this field. What is being pioneered here will be a model for other hospitals to emulate in cancer and other diseases.”