Queen’s receives $3.7 million in funding towards cancer research

Ontario Molecular Pathology Research Network to be based at Queen’s

A brightly-coloured tumour shown during the Richardson Laboratory tour on Sept. 29.

In a pair of black-gloved hands, on a stark white slide, a tumour stands in technicolor. It’s one of what’s now set to be many at Queen’s, with Thursday’s $3.7 million announcement. 

On the morning of Sept. 29, the University announced the multi-million dollar funding for the Ontario Molecular Pathology Research Network (OMPRN), which will be based on campus.

Queen’s researcher Dr. David LeBrun, principal investigator in the Cancer Biology and Genetics division of the Queen’s Cancer Research Institute, will be leading the network.

The funding was provided by the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), and was allotted to the Queen’s Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine.

According to the University’s press release, the OMPRN will “[increase] the participation of Ontario cancer pathologists in research, enhancing collaboration across the province.”

At the unveiling of the project, held in the atrium of the Queen’s School of Medicine Building, Dean of Health Sciences Richard Reznick spoke to how every cancer patient is unique, and it’s the job of a pathologist to identify the unique characteristics of each tumour.

“Pathology helps to create personalized medicine, which will lead to better treatment and more cures,” Reznick said.

“We now have at our disposal hundreds of new cancer drugs that could be effective in treating a patient’s cancer,” LeBrun added. According to him, there are hundreds of drugs that can be used to best combat an individual’s cancer, and it’s a judgement call for the pathologist each time.

“The money will be used to support more molecular pathology research, so that we can better understand the characteristics of individual’s tumours,” said Dr. Christine Williams, Deputy Director and Vice-President of the OICR.

“An accurate diagnosis means patients will receive the best available therapy for them right away,” she said.

Dr. Steven Liss, Queen’s Vice-Principal (Research), also spoke at the announcement, revealing that the OMPRN will partake in various initiatives, such as enhancing mentorships and training for pathologists early in their careers.

The announcement was preceded by a guided tour of Queen’s pathology research facilities located in Richardson Laboratory.

Manley produced for his audience a dissected human colon with colon cancer, explaining how samples like it are used to understand the sort of proteins that make up various cancer cells.

The tour’s leadership was passed along to Shakeel Virk, Director of Operations for Queen’s Laboratory for Molecular Pathology. He brought out a portion of a dissected cancerous tumour from the department’s sample archives. 

Finally, LeBrun spoke to the group about a research technique called digital pathology, displaying on a computer screen an image of a breast cancer tumour. Researchers use biopsy samples, each about one millimeter in length, and stain them using immunoflourescents, which function to distinguish non-cancerous cells from cancerous ones. 

Specific proteins of interest light up in the digital image in different colours, and based on the colour, pathologists can determine what type of clinical trial treatment would be most effective in fighting that specific tumour.

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