Observing Viruses to Decode Cancer
The average Canadian has about a 40 per cent risk of developing cancer in his or her lifetime. Depending on the type of cancer, treatments that target the cancerous cells can slow the progression of the disease; some treatments are more accurate than others at this. To develop more effective treatments, researchers must be able to identify the therapeutic targets that are unique to the cancerous cells. In other words, they need to know what to aim new drug therapies at.
Certain strains of human papillomavirus (HPV) can cause cervical cancer, along with specific types of cancers of the head and neck (45 per cent of oropharyngeal cancers and 22 per cent of cancers of the larynx and inside the mouth). Even though these cancers cannot develop without a viral infection, whether they will develop—and how they may progress—depends on additional genetic alterations.
Dr. Amélie Fradet-Turcotte, Canada Research Chair in Molecular Virology and Genomic Instability, is seeking to better understand how viral infections interfere with the processes that protect cells from these types of genetic alterations. Using an approach based in biochemistry and cellular biology, Fradet-Turcotte’s team focuses on the mechanisms that HPV uses to tamper with the cells that normally protect genomic stability. They are also focusing on the consequences of this tampering on cellular resistance to anti-cancer treatments, like chemotherapy and radiation therapy.
Besides leading to a better understanding of the role played by HPV in the development of cancer, Fradet-Turcotte’s research could result in new treatments that more precisely target this type of cancer.