Research profile

Dr. Kirk McManus_interior image_post

Some of the world’s best and brightest cancer researchers are working right here in Manitoba.

Many of these researchers are graduate students. At CancerCare Manitoba’s Research Institute in Oncology and Hematology (RIOH), grad students are making important discoveries that will lead to new advances in the treatment of colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in North America.

Dr. Kirk McManus, Associate Professor and Senior Scientist at RIOH, says CancerCare Manitoba Foundation studentships are critical to driving cancer research forward.

“It’s critical that new blood and new ideas can come to the forefront, and many of our students have received numerous awards,” he adds. “Studentship funds go directly to the students themselves, which allows them the freedom to continue their research and attend conferences to further and share their learning.”

Dr. McManus’s lab has two major research interests involving chromosome instability, which has proven to be a precursor to cancer development.

“We want to identify the mutated genes that cause cancer, and see if we can design therapies that specifically exploit those mutated genes. Our research will support novel drug therapies and targets,” he explains. “If cancer is represented by Diet Coke, we’re looking for the Mentos. We’re looking for something that can cause an explosion and kill the cancer.”

Dr. McManus’s team has identified defects in numerous genes, including RAD54B, that cause abnormal chromosome numbers. These abnormalities are known to drive tumor development.

With this discovery, they are now working to identify and validate a drug that can selectively kill RAD54B-defective colorectal cancer cells.

CancerCare Manitoba Foundation’s operating grants and studentships support two PhD students, four full-time master students, an undergrad research assistant, and two technicians in Dr. McManus’s lab.

“Our research is hugely impacted and accelerated by the studentships funded through the Foundation. We wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are right now without them,” says Dr. McManus. “We need to train the next generation of researchers. It’s all about paying it forward.”

Laura Thompson is one of those researchers. The fourth-year PhD student has been recognized for her work in identifying the genes responsible for chromosome stability.

Her position is paid for via a two-year award supplied by CancerCare Manitoba Foundation and Research Manitoba. The resources available at CancerCare Manitoba, which include patient samples from the tumor bank, have greatly assisted Thompson in her groundbreaking research.

“If we understand how chromosome instability occurs, we can better treat these cancers,” she says. “At CancerCare Manitoba I’ve had a lot of opportunities I might otherwise not have had. I’ve been able to perform excellent research in this lab.”

Dr. McManus’s team of research students has received national and international attention for their work, presenting their findings worldwide and publishing in peer-reviewed journals.

“Grad students are very important for driving the research forward in the lab. We perform the experiments, collect the data, and analyze the data,” says Thompson. “Funding is critical. We need funding for all of our grad students, and it’s important to get funding from outside sources. The quality of the work we do wouldn’t be possible without it.”

Thanks to your donations, CancerCare Manitoba continues to attract and retain young researchers like Thompson, who are our greatest hope in the fight against cancer. Together, we can — and are — making a difference.