Dr. Paola Marignani

Dr. Paola Marignani

Dr. Paola Marignani

Cancer, Molly Appeal

Precision medicine:

Dr. Paola Marignani is on a mission to help identify and develop new cures for cancer, precisely targeted to the specific molecular profile of each individual patient's cancer.

"Every cancer is as unique as the person who has it, based on their genetics and how their genes have been influenced by lifestyle factors and the environment." Dr. Marignani explains. "We need to be able to analyze each patient's cancer in great detail to predict which treatments will work best for this person's particular cancer... the very essence of a precision medicine pipeline."

Dr. Marignani has brought together more than 15 other researchers at Dalhousie Medical School in a group effort to find molecular mechanisms that can be targeted to stop cancer, and to develop new ways of analyzing and characterizing patients' cancers so they can be custom-treated with precisely targeted therapies.

"Among us, we're investigating signalling pathways, cancer stem cells, cell membranes, protein kinases, immune de-activation and many other factors involved in the genetics of cancer," says Dr. Marignani. "As each of us advances our own research, we're simultaneously advancing the work of the groups as a whole."

In her lab, Dr. Mairignani is unravelling how "stop and go" proteins called tumour suppressors and oncogenes instruct cancer cells to stop or start growing. She and her team have found that a stop protein called LKB1 helps keep certain breast and lung cancers at bay. When cancers have lost LKB1, tumours start to grow. Based on this discovery, they've developed experimental models that have led them to promising potential treatments. For example, they've discovered a novel combination of already-approved drugs that stops the growth of breast cancer by shutting down the energy supply to growing cancer cells.

Dr. Marignani and her colleagues will learn much more about how cancers differ from person to person - and how they can be custom-treated - with new sequencing and analysis equipment to be purchased through the 2017-18 Molly Appeal. Improved access to an expanded tumour issue bank will further accelerate their efforts to effectively cure even lethal cancers of the pancreas and lung. 

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