Although chemotherapy and targeted drugs can treat cancer effectively, cancer cells can become resistant to these treatments. This resistance may arise due to the selection of a subpopulation of cells that are pre-resistant to treatment or through alternative signalling pathways that enable cancer cells to adapt.
Dr. Gregory Schwartz, Canada Research Chair in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, has identified rare subpopulations of untreated cancer cells whose gene expressions and epigenetic profiles are similar to those of resistant populations. He has found that both drug-resistant and untreated cells were genetically similar, suggesting that factors such as cell-to-cell communication contribute to resistance. Now, Schwartz and his research team are developing innovative methods that integrate and leverage large-scale, publicly available data sets to uncover new cell-to-cell communication networks in cancer and the microenvironment. Their findings will help identify the factors that contribute to treatment resistance in cancer patients and could lead to new approaches to overcome resistance.