From left: Dr. Michael N. Pollak, McGill University professor of medicine; Dr. Nahum Sonenberg, McGill University professor of biochemistry; and MP Marc Miller at the announcement of the Stand Up to Cancer Canada Metastatic Breast Cancer Dream Team at McGill University in Montreal on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019. Sonenberg and Pollak are co-leaders of the Dream Team.
Dave Sidaway / Montreal Gazette
The launch of a scientific task force of top researchers to develop innovative new approaches to treating advanced breast cancer was announced Monday at McGill University by Marc Miller, Member of Parliament for Ville-Marie—Le Sud-Ouest—Île-des-Sœurs.Breast cancer that is localized to the breast can be treated successfully in most cases, but no curative treatments yet exist for metastatic disease — disease that has spread to the lungs, bones or other organs — and it accounts for the majority of deaths related to breast cancer. The Stand Up to Cancer Canada Metastatic Breast Cancer Dream Team, as the initiative is known, is investigating a new way to treat metastatic breast cancer by making it impossible for cancer cells to manufacture the proteins they need to be aggressive and continue to spread to organs beyond the breast.Two McGill scientists are leading the team: Dr. Nahum Sonenberg, professor of biochemistry at McGill and a member of the Goodman Cancer Research Centre, and Dr. Michael N. Pollak, professor of medicine at McGill and a clinical oncologist at the Jewish General Hospital and senior investigator at the Jewish General’s Lady Davis Institute for Medical Research.This is the third Dream Team since Stand Up to Cancer Canada, a Canadian registered charity that raises funds to support collaborative cancer research teams and education and awareness programs, was launched in 2014: there are more than 20 in the United States. The Dream Teams bring together laboratory researchers, clinical experts and breast cancer patient advocates from across Canada to work collaboratively.“Researchers are able to do their best work when they work together,” Miller said in announcing the team on behalf of federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas Taylor.The team will receive up to $6 million over four years from Stand Up to Cancer Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society and the federal government through the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR). The first $2-million phase of funding will support the initial clinical trial, which will involve about 40 patients at McGill and in Edmonton and Vancouver. Should outcomes be positive, subsequent funding will support further studies.
MP Marc Miller listens to Marie-Noëlle Séguin-Grignon, a 31-year-old survivor of Stage 3 breast cancer and a scientist herself, at the announcement of the Stand Up to Cancer Canada Metastatic Breast Cancer Dream Team at McGill University in Montreal on Monday, Aug. 12, 2019.
Dave Sidaway /
Among the speakers at the announcement was breast cancer survivor Marie-Noëlle Séguin-Grignon, who learned in December 2017 that she had Stage 3 breast cancer and that hers was triple negative, which is difficult to treat.“Not so long ago, you thought it was the end. But my first reaction was that there is hope and this is because of research,” she said.Séguin-Grignon, 31, is also a scientist. Knowing the science was a help at first, but at a certain point in her treatment, “I had to turn my brain off,” she said. She decided to step back from doctoral studies for now and is working in private industry as part of a team studying immunology. As scientists, she said, “we need to be motivated every day.”“The Dream Team concept gives motivation to the team, and that is a really good thing,” she said.Pollak said the team hopes to bring results from basic research in laboratories to patients “in the short term. We hope to treat the first patients in January,” he said.Metastatic breast cancer is driven, in part, by out-of-control production of proteins by cancerous cells. This happens when the basic machinery of the cell that translates genetic instructions carried by messenger RNA into living protein becomes dysfunctional, according to a Stand Up to Cancer Canada communiqué. Sonenberg is a world leader in the mechanism of translation, the process by which cells translate genetic information into proteins.“As we better understand the process by which the genomic code is translated into proteins, we also gain a better understanding of how this process can go wrong and promote cancer and metastasis,” he said. “We believe we can keep this aberrant process from occurring and thereby prevent metastatic cancer. The funding of our Dream Team makes it possible for us to investigate drug intervention very thoroughly.”One in eight Canadian women will develop breast cancer during her lifetime, according to the Canadian Cancer Society. Breast cancer accounts for 13 per cent of cancer deaths in Canadian firstname.lastname@example.org