June 18, 2019

Brain cancer the target of precision medicine research

Sorana Morrissy one of 14 University of Calgary scholars awarded Canada Research Chair positions
Sorana Morrissy has been awarded the Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Precision Oncology

Sorana Morrissy has been awarded the Canada Research Chair (Tier II) in Precision Oncology.

Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

Fourteen University of Calgary scholars have been named Canada Research Chairs (CRCs), as part of a $275 million federal investment in research programs that will help our environment, health, communities and economy thrive.

“The Canada Research Chairs Program is vital in supporting innovative research, led by both established and early-career researchers at the University of Calgary,” says Dr. Andre Buret, interim vice-president (research). “They are investigating complex challenges with global relevance, and potential for significant impact.”

The CRC program provides support that attracts and retains some of the world’s most accomplished and promising scholars, across all fields of research. One of those scholars is Dr. Sorana Morrissy, PhD, assistant professor in the Cumming School of Medicine and Canada Research Chair in Precision Oncology.

“I want to make a difference in the lives of brain cancer patients, who typically have a very poor prognosis and lack effective therapeutic options,” says Morrissy. “One of the main challenges we need to overcome is the ability of cancers to evolve in response to our treatments, and ultimately become resistant to therapy.”

Morrissy is a Tier II CRC, a designation given to exceptional emerging researchers with the potential to be future leaders in their field. She uses the leading-edge techniques of precision medicine in her work, leveraging knowledge of the genetic basis of cancer to expand the arsenal of tools in the fight against the deadly disease. 

Cancer in adults is often the result of exposure to carcinogenic compounds, like smoking and UV radiation in lung and skin cancer. However, children don’t have the time it takes to accumulate genetic damage from these external factors.

“We are working to understand how paediatric brain tumours arise in the first place, which likely has a lot to do with errors in normal brain development. While paediatric brain tumours are devastating, they are also rare,” she says. 

“On the other hand, glioblastoma is the most common malignant adult brain cancer, but remains incurable despite decades of research," says Morrissy. Her team is interested in how glioblastoma tumour cells evolve to adapt to their environment, and how they become resistant to treatment.

As a CRC, Morrissy will build a research program and assemble a team of similarly driven scientists to take on therapy-resistant cancers. “We are using cutting-edge technology and methods and have access to patient samples, which is a key combination for making progress,” she says. “There is a lot to discover about how tumour cells become resistant to therapy, but it is a crucial task if we are to find and exploit any vulnerabilities.”

New Canada Research Chairs

  • Dr. Myriam Hemberger, PhD – CRC I in Developmental Genetics and Epigenetics (Cumming School of Medicine)
  • Dr. Catherine Lebel, PhD – CRC II in Paediatric Neuroimaging (Cumming School of Medicine)
  • Dr. Cheryl Barnabe, MD – CRC II in Rheumatoid Arthritis and Autoimmune Diseases (Cumming School of Medicine)
  • Dr. Stephanie Borgland, PhD – CRC I in Molecular Physiology of Addiction (Cumming School of Medicine)
  • Dr. Sorana Morrissy, PhD – CRC II in Precision Oncology (Cumming School of Medicine)
  • Dr. Anup Srivastava, PhD – CRC II in Accounting, Decision-Making and Capital Markets (Haskayne School of Business)
  • Dr. Susana Kimura-Hara, PhD – NSERC CRC II in Aquatic Analytical Chemistry (Faculty of Science)
  • Dr. Emma Spanswick, PhD – NSERC CRC II in Geospace Dynamics and Space Plasma Physics (Faculty of Science)
  • Dr. D. Khoa Nguyen, PhD – NSERC CRC II in Number Theory and Arithmetic Geometry (Faculty of Science)
  • Dr. Guang Yang, PhD – NSERC CRC II in Regulatory Genomics (Cumming School of Medicine)

Renewed Canada Research Chairs

  • Dr. Bryan Yipp, MD – CRC II in Pulmonary Immunology, Inflammation and Host Defense (Cumming School of Medicine)
  • Dr. Craig Jenne, PhD – CIHR CRC II in Imaging Approaches Towards Studying Infections (Cumming School of Medicine)
  • Dr. Roman Krawetz, PhD – CIHR II in Bone and Joint Stem Cell Biology (Cumming School of Medicine)
  • Dr. Mathilikath (Matt) Vijayan, PhD – NSERC I in Environmental Physiology and Toxicology (Faculty of Science)