U of C Canada Research Chair pursues novel approach in cancer study

When scientists set out to study how cancers function, they typically examine the DNA of the cancer cell. However, one of the University of Calgary’s Canada Research Chairs awardees is taking a unique approach by looking at the DNA’s epigenome instead.

Dr. Marco Gallo, Canada Research Chair (CRC) in brain cancer epigenomics, is concentrated on the study of gene expressions rather than the genes themselves. He believes that by examining epigenomes – the chemical compounds that can tell the genome what to do – scientists can deeper insights into the growth of cancers and how to treat them.

His research focuses on pediatric brain tumours such as medulloblastoma and ependymoma, as well as adult glioblastoma – the most common malignant brain tumour in adults.

Gallo perceives a “paradigm shift” in biology that is pointing researchers “beyond the genome.”

“In essence, what we’ve discovered in our research to date will potentially enable us to perform a new kind of therapy to directly target the epigenome and fix this aberrant DNA architecture,” he said in a recent interview with UToday, the University of Calgary’s online news service,

Six Canada Research Chairs were awarded to the University of Calgary in May this year. The Canada Research Chair program is the centerpiece of the government’s national strategy to build up the country’s research and development capabilities.

Apart from Gallo, the other University of Calgary CRC’s are:

  • Joule Bergerson, who was awarded for her economic and environmental assessments. Her research is guiding energy transitions that will help governments and industry adopt carbon mitigation technologies.
  • Nils Daniel Forkert, awarded for applying advances in medical imaging across disciplines. His work is aimed toward more accurate diagnosis and treatment of cerebrovascular and neurological diseases.
  • Arthur Kuo, awarded for his ongoing work on extending the understanding of mobility impairments and to develop new rehabilitation technologies.
  • Amanda Meli, awarded for her research into the evolutionary adaptations of primates to environmental change.
  • Peter Tieleman, awarded for his advanced applications of high-performance computing to the understanding of cellular interactions.

Research Chairs in the natural sciences, health sciences, humanities, and social sciences, engage in research impact our quality of life and helps the country become competitive in the international arena.

Receiving CRC status is a tremendous help for Canadian researchers and scientists.

“Receiving a CRC is a huge confidence boost for me and the lab,” he said. “We are very grateful for the opportunity to focus our energy and efforts on performing high-level biomolecular research in this great institution.”

Gallo’s research is being supported with by the Canadian Institute of Health Research Tier 2 CRC fund. That’s in addition to the funding he’s receiving from the Cancer Research Society, Stand Up to Cancer Canada, and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.

This year, Gallo also became a recipient of the Young Investigator award from the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy. The American organization funds innovative gene and cell therapy research.

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