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Our Research

Understanding Cancer Stem Cell Heterogeneity and Dynamics: Implications for Therapy in Human Colorectal Cancer

This project has been completed

Dr. Catherine O’Brien is a scientist with the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and a general surgeon with the University Health Network. She is studying colorectal cancer at the level of single cells to identify which cells cause metastases and are resistant to chemotherapy.

“We have known for a long time that not all cells in any given cancer are the same – some cancer cells are more aggressive than others. We also know that cancer cells from the same tumour can demonstrate differential responses to chemotherapy. Our goal is to study colorectal cancer at the single-cell level, by doing so we can begin to understand what makes certain cells so aggressive. The ultimate goal is to devise therapies directed at these specific cells.”

Being part of a TFRI Program Project Grant (PPG) has given Dr. O’Brien many new opportunities to work with a wider research community. For example, she will track the growth of different cancer cells using a bar-coding method developed by fellow TFRI researcher Dr. Jason Moffat (University of Toronto).

“TFRI is unique within Canada, and working within the PPG is an incredible opportunity for me. The other investigators are all world-class researchers. I wouldn’t have the opportunity to interact with them otherwise. I can discuss my work and get their input and learn from their different areas of research.”

TFF PPG Principal Investigator Dr. Sean Egan, University of Toronto, says “Dr. O’Brien's proposed work is particularly exciting; by studying cell composition before and after treatment she will be able to answer questions regarding how colorectal cancers respond to both standard chemotherapeutic agents and stem cell-targeted therapies.”

Mentoring Program:  Addressing tumour heterogeneity through identification of subgroup-specific "shared maintenance genes" - the right target for each cancer
Mentor/PI: Dr. Sean Egan