Spreading the Word
Learn how Dr. Beauchemin is contributing to the field of cancer research – both in and out of the lab.
After Dr. Nicole Beauchemin beat her cancer, she knew she needed some time to talk. Not about her own experience, but about the cancer research she and her colleagues have done. Beyond information about their own case, people being treated for the disease need more information about the future of cancer treatments, Beauchemin believed. On April 20, she will do her part as the moderator of the Goodman Cancer Research Centre’s final Public Forum discussion of the season about leukemia in children and adults. (A few seats are still available. Click here to register.)
“It was the most important thing to do, as important as the research,” she admitted. Now, she balances her time between speaking with the public and doing research at the bench. Beauchemin’s research is focused on a class of proteins found in colon cells. The lifespan of a cell in the colon is 7 days, which means there are opportunities every week for a mutation in a cell to occur and cause cancer.
One of the proteins always found on the surface of colon cells is CEACAM1, which Beauchemin has investigated for her entire career. When cancer strikes, this class of proteins is affected; either the levels of the proteins start dropping off or they ramp up, way above normal.
Thanks to decades of research, Beauchemin and her colleagues in the field have begun to better understand what the protein does and how it contributes to cancer and metastases.
There may be a way to use that knowledge to fight back. Beauchemin hopes to link antibodies with these proteins on a tumour’s surface, which would prevent the protein from functioning. CEACAM1 proteins are so important that if researchers can block it, a tumour cell will not be able to survive. Instead, it will die in a controlled process called apoptosis and prevent the tumour from growing. This kind of technique – immunotherapy – has shown a lot of promise for patients, and Beauchemin is hoping she and collaborators might be able to begin clinical trials with this antibody in the next few years.
“I never thought, when I started, that we would get to the point when in my career I would see patients being treated with something I started to develop 30 years ago. This gives me such an incredible rush.”
Of course, Beauchemin doesn’t work alone – her lab is working with a group in Boston on the immunotherapy project, and her lab is made up of other scientists and scientists-in-training. Philanthropy directly impacts the work graduate students can do. Through the Gala and other fundraisers, supporters have, over the last 30 years, provided about $200,000 to her trainees. “You are giving now, but you are opening the next 30 to 50 years of someone’s career. You are giving the opportunity to have a career to young people,” Beauchemin said.
Beyond a vital way to communicate with the Montreal and McGill communities, the Public Forum is Beauchemin’s way of saying thank you to the Centre’s donors. “It is our responsibility to say, this is what we did with your money. This is what we are pursuing. We must explain to donors what they have invested in.”