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

Advertisements

Canadians will be able to identify sex as ‘X’ on their passports beginning Aug 31

Friday, 25 August, 2017

Good move by the Canadian government in announcing the news to implementing the change, “Canadians will soon be able to identify sex as ‘X’ on their passports Transgender travellers and those who do not identify as male or female, can check off an ‘X’ box“.

It is time for Canada to catch up with up-to-date science. Similar to what some other countries (Australia, New Zealand, Malta, Nepal, Denmark, India and Pakistan (Ref The Economist video)) have ALREADY been doing!

Too many people commenting on this news on CBC Facebook page need to update their science knowledge from decades old invalidated science. Quoting World Health Organization, United Nation re “Gender and Genetics”:

Most women are 46XX and most men are 46XY. […] In addition, some males are born 46XX due to the translocation of a tiny section of the sex determining region of the Y chromosome. Similarly some females are also born 46XY due to mutations in the Y chromosome.

P.S. Don’t choose to remain ignorant in face of science from reputable source like World Health Organization, United Nation.

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 10.44.37 AM - Canadians can choose gender as X

Reference: (The Economist, July 11, 2017) Which countries allow an option other than male or female on passports?


U of Toronto engineering researchers mend broken hearts with expanding tissue bandage

Friday, 25 August, 2017

Screen Shot 2017-08-25 at 9.56.43 AM - New biomaterial developed by U of T engineering researchers could be delivered through minimally invasive surgery

Very cool news. Excerpts from University of Toronto news “New biomaterial developed by U of T engineering researchers could be delivered through minimally invasive surgery” (emphasis, extra note & links added) (for an in-depth look, see technical article, Nature Materials “Flexible shape-memory scaffold for minimally invasive delivery of functional tissues” ),

A team of U of T engineering researchers is mending broken hearts with an expanding tissue bandage a little smaller than a postage stamp.

Repairing heart tissue destroyed by a heart attack or medical condition with regenerative cells or tissues usually requires invasive open-heart surgery. But now biomedical engineering Professor Milica Radisic [K’s note: including links to PubMed listed articles] and her colleagues have developed a technique that lets them use a small needle to inject a repair patch, without the need to open up the chest cavity.

Radisic’s team are experts in using polymer scaffolds to grow realistic 3D slices of human tissue in the lab. One of their creations, AngioChip, is a tiny patch of heart tissue with its own blood vessels – the heart cells even beat with a regular rhythm. Another one of their innovations snaps together like sheets of Velcro™.

Such lab-grown tissues are already being used to test potential drug candidates for side-effects, but the long-term goal is to implant them back into the body to repair damage.

“If an implant requires open-heart surgery, it’s not going to be widely available to patients,” says Radisic.

She says that after a myocardial infarction – a heart attack – the heart’s function is reduced so much that invasive procedures like open-heart surgery usually pose more risks than potential benefits.

“It’s just too dangerous,” she says.

Miles Montgomery, a PhD candidate in Radisic’s lab, has spent nearly three years developing a patch that could be injected, rather than implanted. [K’s note: more news on Miles]

“At the beginning, it was a real challenge,” he says. “There was no template to base my design on, and nothing I tried was working. But I took these failures as an indication that I was working on a problem worth solving.”

After dozens of attempts, Montgomery found a design that matched the mechanical properties of the target tissue and had the required shape-memory behaviour: as it emerges from the needle, the patch unfolds itself into a bandage-like shape.

[…]

The scaffold is built out of the same biocompatible, biodegradable polymer used in the team’s previous creations. Over time, the scaffold will naturally break down, leaving behind the new tissue.

The team also showed that injecting the patch into rat hearts can improve cardiac function after a heart attack: damaged ventricles pumped more blood than they did without the patch.

“It can’t restore the heart back to full health, but if it could be done in a human, we think it would significantly improve quality of life,” says Radisic.

There is still a long way to go before the material is ready for clinical trials. Radisic and her team are collaborating with researchers at the Hospital for Sick Children to assess the long-term stability of the patches, as well as whether the improved cardiac function can be maintained.

They have also applied for patents on the invention and are exploring the use of the patch in other organs, such as the liver.

“You could customize this platform, adding growth factors or other drugs that would encourage tissue regeneration,” says Radisic. “I think this is one of the coolest things we’ve done.”

Injectable tissue patch could help repair damaged organs – U of T Engineering


(video) LOVE #Calgary #GreenBin! #Maggots?! Not so much!

Sunday, 16 July, 2017

LOVE the Calgary Green Bin program which promises to turn our food and yard waste (garbage that fills our landfills) into nutrient-rich compost! Totally #awesome! But MAGGOTS?! What the beep?! I don’t remember the city ever warns us any major risk of turning our green bins into massive stinky maggots farm?!

Take a look of the following photo and video to see for yourself what I am talking about.

20170716 Calgary Green Bin Maggots

LOVE #Calgary #GreenBin! #Maggots?! Not so much!

I plan to phone the City of Calgary 311 help line or do some Google search to see how best to deal with this massive maggots problem.

While I certainly don’t enjoy this stinky stomach-turning maggots problem, I want to emphasize I still LOVE the Green Bin program as we all have to do our small part to help save our planet.

July 18, 2017 Update: I called 311 yesterday and Pam at the help desk connected Dave from City of Calgary Waste & Recycling Services who called me back promptly. I shared with Dave my massive & stinky maggots problem and suggested future city info flyers should include words warning Calgarian of potential issues if they choose to use the “newspaper method” suggested by the city. (with emphasis added and local PDF file included)

//How to make a kitchen pail liner out of newspaper

Wrapping food waste in newspapers or flyers is great alternative to compostable bags. Follow our quick kitchen pail liner guide (local PDF file) to make one at home.//

I Suppose the “newspaper method” can still be used if you don’t mind the maggots (which can totally be composed but it looks sickening) or if you freeze the food waste and put them into newspaper the night before the compost pick up day.

Today is finally the compost pick up day so I will clean up the green cart. This week we will try to use the compose bag and see if things will improve much better. According to Dave, things should improve a lot as the compose bags should stop flies or insects getting to the food waste. Will see how things go.

July 17, 2017, CBC News, “Bring us your meat, your veggies, your pet poop: Calgary composting starts on Tuesday – Green carts are already in place in the southwest of the city, with rollouts staggered across quadrants


Julie Payette – Canada’s next Governor General

Thursday, 13 July, 2017

I’m thrilled and excited to hear Ms. Julie Payette, TA of myUniversity of Toronto Computer Science CSC258 class (I wrote more in this post), has been named Canada’s next Governor General.

2017 July 13, CBC News, “‘Unquestionably qualified’: Ex-astronaut Julie Payette formally introduced as Canada’s next GG – Prime minister holds news conference on Parliament Hill to name successor to David Johnston

U of T News, “U of T alumna Julie Payette to be next Governor General

Via CBC Politics LIVE FB post.

Have a watch of this amazing CBC Witness (1993) documentary “Space For Four (1993)


The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge

Tuesday, 30 May, 2017

I’m watching this great talk thanks to Yann LeCun’s FB post. I’m also planning to read “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge” by Abraham Flexner (PDF via IAS). Fascinating stuff.

Robbert Dijkgraaf: “The Usefulness of Useless Knowledge” | Talks at Google


Ed Young – I Contain Multitudes

Tuesday, 28 March, 2017

Watching YouTube videos of Ed Young @edyong209, author of I Contain Multitudes: The Microbes Within Us and a Grander View of Life, over lunch. [HT Bill Gates]

Some of the many ideas/keywords: Dysbiosis

 


%d bloggers like this: