Queen’s University PhD student Caitlin Miron makes groundbreaking discovery that may prevent spread of cancer (with brief technical details)

Tuesday, 21 November, 2017
20171121 CTV News interview of Caitlin Miron

Caitlin Miron, a PhD student in the chemistry department at Queen’s University, interviewed on CTV News. Image credit: CTV News, image composite from screen captures.

Congrats to Ms. Caitlin Miron, Ph.D. Candidate, Queen’s University for making a groundbreaking discovery that may have the potential to prevent cancer cells from spreading. Have a watch and read of the CTV news report, “(with video) PhD student makes groundbreaking discovery that may prevent spread of cancer“. According to Miron’s interview with CTV news, “85% of cancers” may benefit from this discovery and while it is too early to talk about the time frame of a commercially available drug, about 5-8 years was mentioned.

Here is an excerpt (with emphasis and links added) from the CTV report,

Studying at the European Institute of Chemistry and Biology in Bordeaux, France, Miron was able to use advanced screening technology to examine a number of compounds from the Petitjean lab at Queen’s University. During her internship, she was able to discover one compound that binds well to four-stranded DNA structure, or guanine quadruplex [G4], which has been linked to the development of cancer and other diseases.

She explained her discovery by comparing a single-stranded DNA to a necklace with beads that move along it until they hit a knot. The beads are the cell machinery that move along the necklace processing the DNA, she said.

“You can go in and untangle that knot, but in this case someone has gone in there first and they’ve used superglue to hold it together,” Miron said. “What we’ve discovered in that case is that glue.”

By binding the newly discovered compound or “superglue” to the quadruplex to secure the “knot” in the chain, scientists may be able to prevent the cell machinery from reaching a particular section of DNA to process it, which would, in turn, prevent the growth and spread of cancer cells, Miron said.

Scientists have been researching quadruplex binders as a possible treatment for cancer for approximately 20 to 30 years, the PhD student explained. However, many of the known binders haven’t yielded results as promising as the one Miron has identified.

“It’s really exciting. It’s exciting to be on the forefront of this field,” she said. “There are other quadruplex binders out there, but what we’re seeing is that ours is very high-performing.”

P.S. Here are some additional references.

Ref 1: Miron is scheduled to have an upcoming Queen’s University Grad Chat “November 28th, 2017 – Caitlin Miron (Chemistry)” that I’m very much looking forward to listen to.

Ref 2: Here is an excerpt from Queen’s University 2017, November 21st, “Caitlin Miron – Recipient of the 2017 Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation (PhD)“, (emphasis and links added)

Caitlin Miron is the recipient of the 2017 Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation. This award is given to a PhD student who has made a significant achievement in research and development innovation during Mitacs-funded research. Last year, Caitlin received a Mitacs Globalink Research Award which funded a collaboration with Dr. Jean-Louis Mergny at the Institut Européen de Chimie et Biologue in Bordeaux, France. This collaboration was the second of two with Dr. Jean-Louis Mergny, and collectively, these collaborations have not only propelled Caitlin’s PhD thesis forward but also merited the receipt of the Mitacs Outstanding Innovation award. […]

 Caitlin’s doctoral dissertation is titled: Dynamic recognition of unusual nucleic acid architectures by cation-responsive switches and other metallo-organic platforms. In sum, DNA has been found to adopt unusual architectures. One type of architecture, called a guanine quadruplex, has been shown to form in the promoter regions of oncogenes (cancer genes), and is implicated in cancer. Caitlin’s research involves finding molecules that stabilize quadruplexes, thereby blocking the expression of these oncogenes, in the hopes that these molecules can be used as anticancer therapeutic agents, either alone or in combination with other treatments. In her first internship in Dr. Mergny’s lab, Caitlin tested a library of potential binders originating from the Petitjean lab and identified a compound that shows some of the best stabilization of quadruplexes that has been seen over the past 30 years. During her second internship (funded by the Mitacs Globalink program), Caitlin explored the effects that small modifications of the lead compound’s structure might have on guanine quadruplex recognition. By taking these compounds from expert to expert, she was able to identify suitable biophysical techniques that she has since brought back to her lab at Queen’s to further her research. Since then, preliminary results suggest that these compounds inhibit cell growth in several human cancer cell lines, and earlier this month, a patent was filed on the novel compounds Caitlin first investigated in France. These results serve as but a case example of rewards made possible by the financial support of funding agencies such as Mitacs.

When I asked Caitlin what skills have helped her during her PhD, she listed good communication, time management and perseverance. “Research doesn’t always go smoothly, so you need to be able to sit back and figure out how to fix things.” Caitlin also recommends ensuring you select a supervisor that will support you throughout the process of graduate school, and pursing opportunities that meet your needs – for example, Caitlin didn’t focus on maximizing her opportunity to teach in the undergraduate course setting during her PhD because she knew she did not want to pursue an academic career. […]

As a final note, Caitlin recommends getting into labs with big names in their respective fields, if possible. Dr. Mergny is one of the top researchers in Caitlin’s field. For Caitlin, conducting research in Dr. Mergny’s lab and having access to experts has enabled her to develop a better understanding of her work and accelerate her research.

After completing her PhD, Caitlin is looking to complete an industrial post-doctoral research position in order to bridge her experience between academia and industry. Caitlin’s long-term goal is to pursue an industrial research career, one slanted towards health applications or perhaps the development of pharmaceuticals. Given Caitlin’s positive attitude and astounding success thus far, I have no doubt she will continue to make great contributions to health-care oriented research in the future.

Ref 3: From Dr. Jean-Louis Mergny’s IECB “Unusual nucleic acid structures” team page,

G-quadruplexes: Friends or foes?
Comparison of sequencing data with theoretical sequence distributions suggests that there is a selection against G-quadruplex prone sequences in the genome, probably as they pose real problems during replication or transcription and generate genomic instability (see below). Nevertheless, “G4-hot spots” have been found in certain regions of the genome: in telomeres, in repetitive sequences such as mini and microsatellite DNAs, in promoter regions, and in first exons of mRNAs. There might be a specific positive role for these sequences that compensates for the general selection against G4 forming sequences. Our goals are to understand the factors that modulate these effects. A number of proteins that interact with these unusual structures have been identified, including DNA binding proteins, helicases, and nucleases. We are currently developing a fluorescent-based assay to follow the activity of helicases in real time (Mendoza, Nucleic Acids Res. 2015).

G-quadruplex ligands: Treats or tricks?
One may achieve structure-specific rather than sequence-specific recognition of DNA. Because of their particular geometric configuration and electrostatic potential, G-quadruplexes may indeed specifically accommodate small artificial ligands, such as planar molecules, and an impressive number of candidates have been evaluated. Together with chemists we successfully identified a variety of G4 ligands and we wish to improve and functionalize these compounds, analyse their biological effects, and ultimately find new classes of anti-proliferative agents with anticancer properties.

Ref 4: Miron’s 2016 Mitacs project, “Building on an Innovative Platform: Tuning Guanine Quadruplex Recognition for Anticancer Applications

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In a world full of Lance Armstrongs and Lance wannabe …

Saturday, 19 January, 2013
In a world full of Lance Armstrongs and Lance wannabe ...
In a world full of Lance Armstrongs and Lance wannabe where winning is everything, it is important to remember the true reason we compete in sports, paradoxically, is not JUST about winning. International sports competitions should be about building international friendship on a clean competing platform. (see note 2)

And sometimes, even during the toughest and highest competitions like the Olympics, there can be selfless acts! Here is one selfless act that I LOVE in 2006!

Norwegian coach Bjørnar Håkensmoen gave [Canadian] Sara Renner a ski pole after hers was broken when a competitor stepped on it during the cross-country team sprint at the 2006 Winter Olympics. Norway’s athlete ended up fourth, implying that this selfless act of sportsmanship may well have cost the Norwegian team a medal.[1] Renner gave Håkensmoen a bottle of wine as a thank you, while other Canadians responded with phone calls and letters to the Norwegian Embassy. Canadian businessman Michael Page donated 8,000 cans of Maple Syrup to the Norwegian Olympic Committee to show his gratitude.[2] The incident was immortalized in a 2010 Winter Olympics television commercial.[3]”

At the end of the day, winning must NOT be everything. Thank you Norway, thanks for helping us but more importantly, how to behave in a selfless manner. You guys rock! World class athletes don’t just set examples by how many medals they have or how many world records they’ve broken, the selfless-act by Norwegian coach Bjørnar Håkensmoen inspire us to rise up to be more, to be noble. Here is an ad capturing the essence.

Yesterday, on Reno KRNV News 4 Forum, I and others expressed some strong views about Lance’s actions. The discussion start at about 5:09 (click here to jump directly to the spot).

I will never want to leave someone without means to make a living and be destitute. But Lance has made enough money (I will leave the morality of how he made those money for you to judge) for him and his family to live comfortably for life, so I am safer to be blunt in saying I have enough of Lance and don’t want to see him compete ever again and him promoting/selling anything. I respect my friends who are deeply affected by his story of fight against and winning his battle with cancer. But for me, I know people with cancer who behaves totally honourably without needing to resort to and falling so low as to try to win at all cost.

Note 1: If you ask me, Lance’s latest strategically targeted & planned TV appearances is nothing other than an insincere attempt to win back our broken hearts. Yes, his battle against cancer, his great charitable work, his drugs-assisted wins, his bullying, and all his lies are paradoxically inspiring, hurtful and insulting all at once. And Lance has #fail to win me back.

Have a read of Forbes, “Lance Armstrong and Oprah: Destroying What Was Left of His Reputation

Note 2: Think of jousting, it was a sport that people from opposing groups “compete” in a manner that sometimes could result in deaths just to show who is “better” in the sport.


CBC Dragon Brett Wilson redefines Success and talks Mistakes in extensive video interview

Saturday, 24 November, 2012

Brett new book interview pix - 2012

Over the last four years since June 2008, I’ve the pleasure to interview Brett Wilson (businessman & philanthropist, “Dragon with a heart”) many (see my 2008 pre-Dragons’ Den interview videos) and many times. I also slowly get to know Brett from industry events (we’ve met at Banff World Media Festival quite a few times (see 2009 interview)) and from his annual charity garden parties (thx Brett for inviting me & my better half). I can honestly say the “up close & in person” Brett is pretty much the same nice & straight talking no non-sense guy that many viewers of CBC’s award-winning Dragons’ Den have come to know and love.

Earlier this afternoon, I had the pleasure to conduct an insightful, open and frank video interview with Brett to talk about his Globe & Mail best-selling book “Redefining Success: Still making mistakes“! I hope you enjoy my interview with Brett as much as I in conducting it. Please share this article & video. And comment too.

note: this article is cross-posted by me at examiner.com

Brett & Kempton at 2010 Garden Party with book cover


Danny Hillis TED Talk old and new

Sunday, 5 February, 2012

Danny Hillis of Applied Minds (company) is a really cool and interesting inventor and entrepreneur. Danny was a really good friend of Feynman and worked with him. The following TED talks are quite interesting and insightful.

Danny Hillis: Back to the future (of 1994)

Danny Hillis: Understanding cancer through proteomics (2011) Hmmm, proteomics looks cool.


Rethink Breast Cancer presents: Your Man Reminder App

Thursday, 13 October, 2011

Rethink Breast Cancer presents: Your Man Reminder App. The free app that uses hot guys to remind you to check your breasts.

HT to my friend Michelle, Rethink Breast Cancer team member and artistic director of Breast Fest.


Intravenously-delivered viral therapy JX-594 consistently and selectively replicate in cancer tissue without harming normal tissues in humans

Thursday, 1 September, 2011

Dr. John Bell (Wikipedia) is a senior OHRI (Ottawa Hospital Research Institute) scientist and senior co-author of the publication in the journal Nature. Check out t a quicktime video of a three-dimensional reconstruction of part of a human colorectal tumour showing widespread infection with oncolytic vaccinia virus (green). Here is an excerpt from the OHRI press release (emphasis added),

“Researchers […] today reported promising results of a world-first cancer therapy trial in renowned journal Nature. The trial is the first to show that an intravenously-delivered viral therapy can consistently infect and spread within tumours without harming normal tissues in humans. It is also the first to show tumour-selective expression of a foreign gene after intravenous delivery.

The trial involved 23 patients (including seven at The Ottawa Hospital), all with advanced cancers that had spread to multiple organs and failed to respond to standard treatments. The patients received a single intravenous infusion of a virus called JX-594, at one of five dose levels, and biopsies were obtained eight to 10 days later. Seven of eight patients (87 per cent) in the two highest dose groups had evidence of viral replication in their tumour, but not in normal tissues. All of these patients also showed tumour-selective expression of a foreign gene that was engineered into the virus to help with detection. The virus was well tolerated at all dose levels, with the most common side effect being mild to moderate flu-like symptoms that lasted less than one day.

“We are very excited because this is the first time in medical history that a viral therapy has been shown to consistently and selectively replicate in cancer tissue after intravenous infusion in humans,” said Dr. John Bell, a Senior Scientist at OHRI, Professor of Medicine at uOttawa and senior co-author on the publication. “Intravenous delivery is crucial for cancer treatment because it allows us to target tumours throughout the body as opposed to just those that we can directly inject. The study is also important because it shows that we can use this approach to selectively express foreign genes in tumours, opening the door to a whole new suite of targeted cancer therapies.””

Media reports:

CBC, “Intravenous virus eyed as possible cancer treatment

CTV, “Groundbreaking Ottawa-based cancer trials show “promising” results


A tool that finds 3x more breast tumors, and why it’s not available to you

Tuesday, 11 January, 2011

A very insightful TEDWomen presentation from Deborah J. Rhodes, M.D. at Mayo Clinic, “A tool that finds 3x more breast tumors, and why it’s not available to you“.

Here is a link to the abstract of an article referenced by Dr. Rhodes in January 2011 Radiology, 258, 106-118 “Dedicated Dual-Head Gamma Imaging for Breast Cancer Screening in Women with Mammographically Dense Breasts” by Deborah J. Rhodes, MD, Carrie B. Hruska, PhD, Stephen W. Phillips, MD1, Dana H. Whaley, MD and Michael K. O’Connor, PhD


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