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During breast cancer awareness month, we had the opportunity to connect with renowned researcher, Dr. Paola Marignani. Dr. Marignani is a full professor at Dalhousie University’s Faculty of Medicine, Dept. Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, with a cross-appointment to the Dept. of Pathology.

Dr. Paola Marignani and her team at Dalhousie University work to understand, at the molecular level, how we get diseases like cancer, with an overall goal of improving treatments, human health, and survivorship. To do this, her lab has developed tools and technology to better understand human cells that cause disease. They are able to look at normal, healthy cells and learn how they change when they are diseased.

In a nutshell, at the Marignani Lab, they are inventing new ways to solve complex health problems.

Although Dr. Marignani has been conducting research for many years, one of her big breakthroughs came through a chance encounter. In 2011, she stepped in at the last minute to present her work at a community event, where she spoke openly and authentically about her research and what health impacts could come from it. This resulted in a significant donation to DMRF, which was directed to Dr. Marignani’s work, allowing her lab to discover how the loss of a tumour suppressor called LKB1 was involved in the HER2 positive breast cancers.

“Funding from DMRF donors has allowed to my team and I to conduct important and impactful work, make important discoveries in cancer research, and provide opportunities for emerging scientists to learn in the lab environment—helping to train the next generation of scientists,” says Dr. Marignani. “Our team is so appreciative of the support we receive from donors. The donations can be of any amount, because over time, even small donations make a big difference.”
Paola Marignani
Dr. Paola Maignani

The Marignani Lab discovery then led to the discovery of a new drug combination that significantly suppressed the growth of breast cancer cells. This finding has been extremely impactful and continues to be used by other Dalhousie researchers as they conduct their own studies. Dr. Marignani’s team is now pursuing different drug combinations that may suppress the recurrence of cancer cells, which is so important, as survivorship is less favourable when these cancers recur. Her team is about a month away from completing a new series of pre-clinical studies where precision medicines are being investigated, despite delays caused by lab shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Marignani and her Dalhousie colleagues—who she says are some of the very best scientists around—work hard every day to make good use of the funds they receive to achieve results. She says, “What I think about when I’m in the lab is that behind every donation that funds my work, there is a story. A human. I have a front-row seat to that story and it’s a privilege that I don’t take for granted.”

Dr. Marignani believes that the honour of being able to listen to people’s cancer journey can’t be captured in published scientific articles or conference presentations, and she is looking forward to getting back into the community to talk about the research she and her team are doing and to hear the stories she knows will motivate her to continue in her efforts. 

“I’m fully committed to research funded by DMRF and I get excited every day about this work. The large-scale impact from working to solve HER2 positive breast cancer and understand the cause of breast cancer recurrence is to improve the quality of life and survivorship of patients.”

To learn more about Dr. Paola Marignani’s research, visit the Marignani Lab website, and to donate to her work, visit www.dmrf.ca/ways-to-give.