Dr. Paola Marignani

Dr. Paola Marignani

Dr. Paola Marignani

Cancer, Molly Appeal

Precision medicine:
Dr. Paola Marignani seeks personalized treatments for high mortality cancers

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 analyze each patient's cancer in great detail to better predict which treatments will work best for a person's particular cancer... the very essence of a precision medicine pipeline."

Dr. Marignani has brought together more than 25 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 that treatments can be customized with precisely targeted therapies.

"Among us, we're investigating signalling pathways, tumour suppressors, cancer stem cells, epigenetics, 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 programs, we're simultaneously advancing the work of the groups as a whole."

In her lab, Dr. Marignani 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 drugs that stopthe 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 treatments will be personalized -- with new ImageStreamX Mark II cell analysis equipment to be purchased through the 2018-19 Fall Molly Appeal. This will add further research capabilities to those gained with the purchase of a Fluidigm C1 cell-sorting system and improved access to an expanded tumour tissue bank, which were funded by last year's DMRF Molly Appeal. The creation of precision medicine pipelines, will further accelerate efforts to effectively cure lethal cancers of the lung, pancreas and breast.

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