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Understanding the function of circular RNA in tumour hypoxia to better kill cancer cells

This project has been completed

A newly funded TFRI researcher at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is building on existing hypoxia research to discover new ways to kill some of the most aggressive and treatment-resistant cancer cells.

Dr. Housheng (Hansen) He is partnering with the renown TFRI hypoxia team led by Drs. Bradly Wouters and Robert Bristow to explore vulnerabilities in tumours low in oxygen, a state known as hypoxia. These tumours are more likely to grow and spread aggressively, often metastasizing throughout the body.

Dr. He’s lab has identified more than 300 circular RNAs abnormally expressed in prostate cancer patients with high hypoxic tumours. The group will be testing their theory that these circular RNAs create certain vulnerabilities within these aggressive cells that could be used as both biomarkers and therapeutic targets for hypoxia-directed therapy.

“My research has been focused on the understanding of non-coding genes in our genome, and I think this is a fantastic opportunity for me to utilize my expertise into the hypoxia program project,” said Dr. He, noting that better understanding hypoxic tumours is the main goal of his work.

“I was thrilled to receive this grant, because it’s a very competitive field and this award is critical to support my research moving into this exciting area.”

Developing new biomarkers to detect for hypoxic tumours will allow a more personalized approach to treating these cancers, he added.

“What we have been using or testing right now (with our patients) comes from their blood serum and plasma, but we are expanding this to urine, so we won’t even have to draw a blood test,” said Dr. He.

His work will add to the existing body of knowledge and the important findings the team has made. Significant progress has been made in treating prostate cancer, but survival rates remain low for the most advanced, drug-resistant forms of the disease. Prostate cancer is the third- leading cause of cancer-related death in Canadian men.

Drs. Wouters and Bristow sponsored Dr. He for the prestigious award, praising the researcher’s scientific skills.

“I am very pleased that Hansen has developed an interest in exploring the contribution of non-coding RNA in areas of biology that are relevant to patient outcome,” said Dr. Wouters.

“He proposed a well-developed and innovative research project that has great potential to advance the field of tumour hypoxia…and the whole team supports his application enthusiastically and without reservation.”

Mentoring Program: A Research Pipeline for Hypoxia-directed Precision Cancer Medicine
Mentors: Drs. Bradly G. Wouters and Robert G. Bristow