Dr. James Fawcett

Dr. James Fawcett

Dr. James Fawcett

Neuroscience

Protein precision:

Dr. James Fawcett explores mechanisms of mental illness and cancer
Proteins are key "doers" in our cells, which work together to perform a myriad of functions that allow us to live in a state of health. But when proteins are not performing properly, we end up with diseases. Dr. James Fawcett wants to know exactly how this happens in a wide range of conditions, from bipolar disorder and schizophrenia to cancer.

"Genetic changes lead to defects in the proteins that genes produce," notes Dr. Fawcett. "In psychiatric disorders, such mutations lead to structural and functional defects in the proteins that for synaptic connections within the brain, which manifests as mental illness."

Dr. Fawcett is an expert in creating preclinical models of psychiatric disorders, cancers, and other diseases, and using mass spectrometry technology to identify novel protein-protein complexes and see how these are changed in various disorders. Funds raised through Dalhousie Medical Research Foundation's Fall 2019 Molly Appeal will allow the purchase of sophisticated new mass spectrometry equipment that will dramatically accelerate the progress of Dr. Fawcett's work to understand bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and to identify and test potential new therapies for these devastating mental illnesses.

At the same time, Dr. Fawcett is working with colleagues in Dalhousie's Faculty of Medicine to explore potential new immune therapies for cancer. For example, he and Dr. Carman Giacomantonio are investigating immunotherapies for skin cancers, while he and Dr. Adrienne Weeks are exploring potential immune therapies for glioblastoma, a deadly form of brain cancer.

Proteins are not the only players mass spectrometry can examine. The technology also allows scientists to trace the by-products of the metabolism of any substance, known as 'metabolites'.

"Mass spectrometry is a powerful tool we use to identify complexes of proteins that work together and how they are affected in various diseases," Dr. Fawcett says. "Mass spectrometry is also a powerful tool for understanding illness, designing drugs, diagnosing disease, fine-tuning a treatment plan, and monitoring response to treatment."

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