The Next Generation: Dr. Richard Marcotte
Posted: July 30, 2011 In: Portal Newsletter
Dr. Richard Marcotte grew up as a curious child in a small village in Quebec. His curiosity was well fed; his mother had an extensive collection of books and even bought him a microscope and toy chemistry set. Over the years Marcotte’s curiosity developed into a great interest in science, which led him to McGill University where he earned his bachelor of science degree in microbiology and immunology.
After completing his undergraduate studies, Marcotte remained at McGill and pursued his PhD. During this time Marcotte’s research was focused on aging at the molecular biology level, particularly on the process of aging within cells, known as senescence. Marcotte’s research into the mechanisms of senescence is what led him in the direction of cancer research. “The process of senescence acts as a tumour suppressor because it causes cells to stop proliferating before they can become cancerous. For cancer to form, the cell must bypass this process,” explains Marcotte. “Senescence is programmed into the gene’s of cells, but sometimes something goes wrong.”
Marcotte completed his research into senescence and began his first postdoctoral fellowship in Montreal where he developed animal models for the study of breast cancer. He has continued his use of animal models to study cancer, but is now doing so as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Benjamin Neel’s lab at the Ontario Cancer Institute, the research arm of the University Health Network’s Princess Margaret Hospital. The OICR-Terry Fox Research Institute, Selective Therapies Program is funding Marcotte’s research.
The research being conducted by Marcotte and his colleagues in the Neel lab is aimed at understanding which genes play a role in the survival and growth of breast cancer cells. When researching genes, scientists will insert small pieces of RNA into cells to turn off the expression of a specific gene. This allows them to see what the role of that gene is within the cell. Marcotte is applying this technique on a larger scale by making use of small-RNA libraries to systematically interrogate all of the genes in different breast cancer cell lines. By turning off genes in the breast cancer cells, Marcotte can determine what role each gene plays in breast cancer. The ultimate goal of this research is to develop a map of the essential genes associated with breast cancer that can then be used in the development of therapeutics that are targeted at specific mutations.
Marcotte notes that because the cost and amount of time needed to sequence a genome is rapidly declining, this research will probably see a direct clinical application in the not so distant future. “The rise of cheap and fast genomic sequencing will make the use of such technology commonplace in clinical settings. By sequencing patient genomes and seeing what genes are at play in their particular cancer, clinicians will be able to better select targeted therapies,” says Marcotte.
Developing this new generation of cancer therapeutics will be the most challenging aspect of implementing personalized medicine on a large scale, says Marcotte. But he adds that the rapid advance in technology available to researchers should help to accelerate this work.
After completing his postdoctoral fellowship in the Neel lab, Marcotte hopes to establish his own lab and continue his research into the use and development of new animal models in the preclinical testing of drugs.