The Cross-Border Biotech Blog

Biotechnology, Health and Business in Canada, the United States and Worldwide

Tag Archives: BC Cancer Agency

Monday Biotech Deal Review: April 18, 2011

Welcome to your Monday Biotech Deal Review for April 18, 2011.  Just by way of FYI, readers may be interested to know that The Canadian Institute will be hosting its 5th annual conference on Drug Pricing and Reimbursement in Canada in Toronto from June 14 – 15 at the Sutton Place Hotel.  The conference aims to bring key stakeholders together to share perspectives and strategies on maintaining competitiveness and compliance in these difficult markets.  Stay tuned on crossborderbiotech for coverage from the conference.  Back to the deal review, there was a fair bit of commercial activity last week, with some interesting licensing and commercial transactions announced or closed.  Read on to learn more.     Read more of this post

Friday Science Review: March 11, 2011

Insulin + Pancreatic Stem Cells, Proof of Life

University of Toronto ♦ Published in Cell Stem Cell, Mar. 4, 2011

The origin of insulin-producing pancreatic β-cells has been a matter of contentious debate. Some research groups have produced findings that would suggest β-cells duplicate themselves and that new β-cells do not arise from the differentiation of a more primitive pancreatic progenitor. Other groups have proven the existence of pancreas-derived multipotent progenitors (PMPs) that are capable of giving rise to a spectrum of cells from both the pancreatic and neural lineage. So where do β-cells come from?

New results from the lab of Dr. Derek van der Kooy point in the direction of PMPs. Lineage labeling experiments in mice showed that PMPs originate from the embryonic pancreas, as opposed to the neural crest, which has often been cited as the source of pancreatic progenitors. These findings are in conflict with previous studies which could not provide evidence of pancreatic progenitors in the developing embryo or the adult. Convincingly, Dr. van der Kooy’s group was able to show that PMPs express insulin in vivo, an attribute that has often been considered prerequisite for the production of β-cells.

Analysis of human islet tissue showed that PMPs also exist in humans, and, similar to the mouse PMPs under observation, were capable of differentiation to both the pancreatic and neural lineages. Both mouse and human PMPs were able to alleviate diabetic conditions in mice and may provide another avenue to explore in the pursuit of therapeutic cells for transplantation therapy.

Selective Pressures Shape the Genomic Integrity of Human iPS Cells During Reprogramming

Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute ♦ Ontario Institute for Cancer Research ♦ The Hospital for Sick Children ♦ University of Toronto

Published in Nature, Mar. 3, 2011

Coercing fibroblasts to revert to an embryonic stem cell-like state places a good deal of stress on the genome. The consequences of reprogramming can affect the development of safe populations of cells for therapeutics, which is why researchers at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute have been interested in understanding how the reprogramming process affects genomic integrity. The integrity of a genome can be measured using copy number variation (CNV) within a population of cells. CNVs arise from deletions or duplications in DNA; as variation increases, the integrity of the genome declines.

In this study supervised by Dr. Andras Nagy and Dr. Timo Otonkoski, researchers characterized the CNV content of 22 human iPS cell lines and 17 human ES cell lines using Affymetrix SNP arrays. Induced pluripotent cell lines were created by way of retroviral transduction or with the use of a transposon known as piggybac. The number of CNVs in iPS cells was roughly twice that found in ES cells on average and many CNVs found in iPS cells were undetectable in ES cells suggesting that CNVs are generated during the reprogramming process. To the surprise of the group the number of CNVs in iPS cells was greatest at early stages, and decreased as cells were passaged in culture.

Researchers hypothesized that the reduction in copy number variation could be the result of two things, firstly, a DNA repair mechanism that corrects deletions and additions as the cells grow and divide in vitro, or mosaicism in early cultures followed by selection of iPS cells that have lower variation and greater genomic stability; a survival of the fittest in a way. It is unlikely that a DNA repair mechanism could operate fast enough to account for the rapid reduction of CNVs observed in iPS cells in culture and indeed, after using fluorescence in situ hybridization (FISH), it was confirmed by the lab group that mosaicism did exist in early cultures of iPS cells. In order to prove that selection was driving the decrease in CNVs researchers focused on deletions that cannot be corrected by DNA repair mechanisms. They found that several of these deletions were selected against during passaging of iPS cell lines. This pressure was bidirectional however, as some CNVs were selected for, not against.

CIITA, A Promiscuous Partner in Lymphoid Cancers

Centre for Translational and Applied Genomics ♦ BC Cancer Agency ♦ University of British Columbia

Published in Nature, Mar. 2, 2011

Chromosomal translocation events are a common abnormality leading to the development of cancer but few have been described as contributors to the development of lymphoid cancers. A new chromosomal translocation event has been implicated in the development of Hodgkin lymphoma and primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma (PMBCL). Large scale mutations of this nature occur when non-homologous chromosomes transiently stick together and cause breakages that lead to the exchange of genetic information. If genes are placed next to one another following the translocation event, fusion transcripts are created which can lead to cellular abnormalities and malignant expansion.

Genome-wide mapping of translocation events can be carried out using paired-end sequencing of expressed transcripts. Researchers used such a platform to analyze two Hodgkin lymphoma cell lines. Analysis uncovered a highly expressed gene fusion between the MHC class II complex (CIITA) and an uncharacterized gene. Further analysis of 263 B-cell lymphoma cell lines went on to show that the CIITA translocation was highly recurrent in PMBCL (38%) and Hodgkin lymphoma (15%). The genetic event appears to be quite specific to PMBCL as it was observed in only 3% of diffuse large B-cell lymphoma cell lines.

Researchers note that although certain translocation events of very specific rearrangements are key contributors to some B-cell lymphomas, resulting in unique clinopathological features, many well characterized B-cell lymphomas still lack identifiable translocations that define the disease. Translocations in B-cell lymphomas are a rare occurrence, and until the publication of this research, no translocations had ever been reported in PMBCL.

Monday Biotech Deal Review: July 19, 2010

Lots of deals this week. Some good news, some bad news. On the good news front, a steady volume of securities and M&A activity is continuing through the summer; and one Canadian firm benefits from the U.S. Defense Departments exploration of RNAi products as anti-virals. On the other hand front, though, a licensing option expired, a liquidation proceeded and marketing rights were voluntarily surrendered. See who’s who after the jump…

Friday Science Review: October 9, 2009

Breast cancer, genomics and two cover stories in prestigious journals…

Cancer Evolution and Progression:  Scientists at the BC Cancer Agency have sequenced and compared the entire cancer genome of a metastatic tumour versus the primary breast tumour that originated nine years earlier.  They used next generation DNA sequencing technology to reveal 32 mutations in the metastatic cancer but surprisingly only five of these were present in the original tumour.  Six mutations were present at lower frequencies in the primary tumour, 19 were not detected and 2 were undetermined.  These differences may provide clues about how cancer becomes resistant to therapy or how a tumour switches to aggressive metastasis that spreads to other sites in the body.  The study demonstrated that cancers evolve and that there may be significant heterogeneity within the tumours.  These findings emphasize the importance of ongoing research efforts to sequence all cancer genomes and buttress arguments in favour of personalized medicine.

The study was lead by Dr. Samuel Aparicio at the BC Cancer Agency and appears as the cover story in the latest edition of Nature.

Honey, I shrunk the lab: The “lab-on-a-chip” concept has been in use for a number of years but Dr. Aaron Wheeler’s Microfluidics Laboratory at the University of Toronto has designed a new module for use in breast cancer detection and care.  The hand-held sized device can extract and quantify estrogen in a very small sample size – as little as a 1 microliter sample of tissue or blood – by using electrical charges to move liquids around in a precise manner over a microchip.  Current methods require a much larger sample, about the size of a penny, which is often impractical to obtain.  Since elevated estrogen levels are associated with breast cancer risk and pathogenesis, this new device could be used at point-of-care to screen at-risk patients or to monitor therapies and provide results within minutes instead of days.

Dr. Wheeler collaborated with Dr. Robert Casper (University of Toronto and Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute) on this project, which garnered the inaugural cover story in the new journal, Science Translational Medicine.

Genome Map Upgrade: Researchers have generated a comprehensive structural map of the human genome in identifying and marking regions that are duplicated or deleted, the so-called copy number variation (CNV).  Genetic variation is what makes us different and certain areas of the genome reflect these differences whereas other genetic regions show very little variation and are likely essential function genes.  It also provides important clues to understanding evolution and provides the foundation for future research in developing personalized medicine.   The international study was co-lead by Dr. Stephen Scherer at The Centre for Applied Genomics (Hospital for Sick Children, Toronto) and provides the following comments:

“The scale of this current project is 100 times the scale of all others.”

“Previous work in this field would be like a paper fold-up map; this advancement is like a GPS that takes you where you need to go. It allows you to navigate the landscape of the genome, from its peaks where there is vast genetic variation, to its valleys devoid of it.”

“Variation is indeed the spice of life and we now know that nature buffers this variation by using CNVs. We are harnessing this knowledge to fight disease.”

Dr. Scherer is also involved in maintaining the Database of Genomic Variants, which provides researchers around the world access to a curated catalog of CNVs.  Details of the research report appear in the advanced on-line edition of Nature.

Congratulations to McGill University alumni Jack Szostak and Willard Boyle for winning the 2009 Nobel Prize in their respective disciplines.

Dr. Jack Szostak started at McGill when he was 15 years old and graduated in 1972, specializing in cell biology.  This was the start of a brilliant research career where he co-discovered how telomeres and telomerase protects chromosomes from losing genetic material during cell division.  He shares the 2009 Nobel Prize for Medicine.

Dr. Willard Boyle completed his BSc (1947), MSc (1948) and PhD (1950) from McGill.   He shares the Nobel Prize for Physics for the 1969 co-invention of the charged-couple device (CCD) that is used in today’s digital photography technology.

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