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Cancer Genetics Program

Research activities

History - The Cancer Genetics Laboratory evolved with the creation of the Cancer Genetics Program in 1999 and is closely aligned with Dr. Malkin’s research laboratory. The primary focus of the CGP research activities are the identification and functional characterization of genetic events associated with childhood cancer predisposition.

Funding - To enhance the facilities of the laboratory to achieve this goal, we were successful in obtaining an infrastructure grant from the Canada Foundation for Innovation in 2001 ($1.82 million) with an additional supplementary funding of $256,000 from the Ontario Innovation Trust (Ontario Ministry of Industry and Research).

Biorepository & Database - With these funds, we purchased state-of-the-art equipment and established a cancer genetics biorepository that is linked to an extensive clinical research database that has proven invaluable in our research studies. To date, over 3000 samples are catalogued in this database. A portion of these funds were designated for renovation costs to the 12th floor of the TMDT building (MaRS) SickKids labs, where the Cancer Genetics Laboratory is situated. Several important and high-impact studies have been generated from the Cancer Genetics Program activities and are outlined in Appendix 2.

The cancer genetic studies have been funded through national peer-reviewed agencies including National Cancer Institute of Canada, Canadian Institutes of Health Research with co-investigator studies on National Institutes of Health (US) grants, as well as several smaller agencies.

Significant Discoveries - The laboratory has achieved great success over the past five years, and the scientific impact of its studies has been felt around the world. Examples of significant discoveries include:

  • the association of a specific DNA tumor virus with development of certain childhood cancers in genetically predisposed individuals
  • the discovery of molecular ‘pathways’ that may serve as target for new therapies for paediatric brain tumors
  • the identification of novel familial cancer associations that may ultimately lead to discovery of novel cancer genes
  • the identification of the genetic mechanism associated with earlier onset of cancer in predisposed families
  • the development of a model that explains the role of defects in genes or large genomic regions that modify the effects of inheritance of mutant p53
  • the identification of enhanced DNA copy number variation as an mechanism to explain the development of a wide spectrum of cancers in individuals with apparently a single common genetic event.

In addition, more than 100 trainees, including post-doctoral fellows, clinical fellows (oncology and genetics), graduate students, 4th year undergraduate project students, summer students have received training on the facilities incorporated in the laboratory. Several of these have received recognition for their work through scholarships and prizes for abstracts presented at meetings. New scientific collaborations, and integration of clinical and fundamental research have developed over the nine years of the Program.

Very recently, these collaborations have extended beyond the paediatric community to the study of prostate cancer (with Dr. Robert Nam – Sunnybrook Medical Centre) ovarian cancer (with Dr. Stephen Narod – Women’s College Hospital) and breast cancer (investigators at PMH, Women’s College, UHN and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston). Thus, the impact of the research piece of the CGP has exploded beyond its initial intent. These research collaborations are enhanced by the creation of monthly meetings of Cancer Genetics PIs in Toronto.