This year marked the 25th anniversary of the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, and the Institute’s scientists continued to receive international recognition for a wide range of transformative biomedical discoveries. To name just a few, here were some of the year’s leading stories:
· Drs. Anne-Claude Gingras and Mike Tyers identified the first global ‘road map’ of important protein interactions implicated in cell signaling. A greater understanding of these yeast signaling proteins will help researchers better understand similar systems in human illnesses including cancer, and assist in the development of new therapies. In the course of their research, the Lunenfeld team also created an innovative computer tool called ProHits, for storing and analyzing mass spectrometry data, as well as a novel statistical method called SAINT for the analysis of protein interaction data. These bioinformatic research tools will allow researchers globally to conduct genome-wide studies of protein interactions and communication pathways in cells.
· Dr. Rita Kandel
and other Lunenfeld researchers including Drs. Marc Grynpas and Andras Nagy
launched a new project aimed at developing leading-edge ‘biological replacements
’ for damaged joints. The project is a multidisciplinary effort involving bioengineers, orthopaedic surgeons, veterinary surgeons, bone biologists and stem cell biologists, and represents Canada’s first project using stem cells for joint regeneration. Dr. Kandel anticipates that this work will put her team at the forefront of orthopaedic and regenerative medicine in North America.
· Dr. Kathy Siminovitch and her colleagues identified three new genes that increase risk for a devastating liver disease called primary biliary cirrhosis (PBC), which destroys bile ducts in the liver. The research was a follow-up to a landmark analysis conducted last year, which provided the first clues into the causes of PBC and gave new insights into other autoimmune conditions including rheumatoid arthritis. Dr. Siminovitch emphasized the importance of this type of research to the practice of medicine in general, noting that advances in genetics knowledge are allowing for earlier diagnoses and more personalized treatments that result in better patient outcomes.
· Dr. Tony Pawson discovered a technique that may revolutionize the way lab experiments are conducted by allowing scientists to monitor two-way communication between cells. This finding will potentially make lab studies of cancers and other diseases—and the assessment of new drugs that target these illnesses—more insightful by capturing cell–specific information.
· The teams of Drs. Jeff Wrana and Andras Nagy discovered new insights into the genesis of stem cells, which will improve the efficiency of stem cell creation for use in tissue regeneration and in the development of new drugs. The research was designed to explore the process of changing fully mature cells of the body (known as somatic cells) into a pluripotent state (i.e., cells that can develop into most other cell types), and understand the molecular and genetic changes that occur during the cells’ reprogramming. Drs. Wrana and Nagy found that the reprogramming process is comprised of three pivotal phases, and discovered a cellular signaling pathway that plays a critical role in the early (or ‘initiation’) phase.
· A team led by Dr. Daniel Durocher uncovered a protein called OTUB1 that helps block accumulation of DNA damage in the cell—a discovery that may lead to the development of strategies to improve some cancer therapies. The study represents pivotal new information on how cells regulate their genetic material. In addition, Dr. Durocher’s discovery improves understanding of familial breast and ovarian cancer, as the research shows that OTUB1 inhibits the action of BRCA1, a DNA repair protein often mutated in these cancers. This year, Dr. Durocher was also named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40™ and received the Young Investigator Award from the Canadian Cancer Society.
· A team of Mount Sinai Hospital and Lunenfeld researchers and clinicians, in partnership with several universities, medical research institutes and hospitals across Ontario, began a new health study on the population of Ontario. The Ontario Health Study will investigate the factors that increase individual and community risk of developing cancer, heart disease, diabetes, asthma, Alzheimer’s disease and other common illnesses. Dr. Lyle Palmer, Executive Scientific Director of the study and Senior Scientist at the Lunenfeld, notes that results will be used to help prevent common diseases, and to assist doctors and researchers in finding new targets for diagnosis and treatment.
Other Lunenfeld successes this past year included:
An expanded lab space opened in March, with new instruments to help our scientists analyze the composition, structure and function of proteins, as well as how they interact with each other. The new facility on the Lunenfeld’s ninth floor contains some of the most sophisticated proteomics and mass spectrometry instruments in the world. Lunenfeld scientists’ discoveries in cell signaling, structural biology and cancer biology rely in part on these technologies that help researchers separate, identify and quantify specific human proteins, to determine their role in healthy and damaged or diseased cells.
In November, a team of four Lunenfeld trainees raised over $4,000 in support of the Mount Sinai Hospital Auxiliary Chef’s Challenge, held in Toronto in support of breast and ovarian cancer research as well as the Hospital’s Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre. Participating fundraisers earned the right to show off their culinary skills on stage, led by an all-star line-up of Food Network celebrity chefs such as Gordon Ramsay, David Rocco and Jamie Kennedy. In total, the event raised $1.1 million.
Several Lunenfeld scientists were chosen as new fellows for Venture Sinai—a program begun in 2009 in support of research at the Lunenfeld:
· The main Venture Sinai cohort chose to support the research of Dr. Sabine Cordes, who studies the genes involved in psychiatric disorders, and whose previous work has explored the role of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in modulating behaviours such as anxiety, appetite and aggression. Dr. Cordes’ latest project will focus on the genetics of mood disorders.
· Dr. Tatiana Lipina was named as the 2010 Venture Sinai Women Fellow. Dr. Lipina is a Research Associate in the lab of Lunenfeld Senior Investigator Dr. John Roder, and her research focuses on a gene called Disrupted-in-Schizophrenia (also known as DISC1), which is associated with increased risk for psychiatric illnesses including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression.
· Venture Sinai 2 chose to support lacovos Michael as this year’s fellow. lacovos is a doctoral candidate in the lab of Lunenfeld Senior Investigator Dr. Andras Nagy, and he is studying the formation of blood vessels in solid tumours, including the assessment of targets for new therapies. Specifically, Iacovos is focused on developing novel strategies to restrict the blood supply to tumours (a tactic used in anti-angiogenic therapies), with the goal to develop new treatments that will target and “stick” to cancerous cells only, while leaving healthy cells intact.