Michel L Tremblay, Goodman Cancer Research Centre

“Research is like a sky full of concepts,” says GCRC researcher. “You think you see a bear or something, and you have to test that hypothesis with your research. You have to have a solid base in science, but you have to have a bit of imagination to think of how to put those stars together into a constellation.”

After 30 years, Goodman Cancer Research Centre scientist Dr. Michel Tremblay still relishes the thrill of discovery.

After his mother passed away from breast cancer, Dr. Michel Tremblay changed his plans immediately. Instead of continuing his graduate research in microbiology, he began a career in cancer research that has spanned decades and brought him to the Goodman Cancer Research Centre.

“It’s been an interesting journey,” Tremblay said. “Cancer has been and still is now one of the advanced research fields of medicine.”

Tremblay has worked in the field for almost 30 years, and is studying a group of proteins called protein tyrosine phosphatases (PTPs).

About 107 PTPs exist, Tremblay noted, each with their own particular role in cell growth and specialization. PTPs can have wide-reaching impacts. His most recent paper investigated the relationship between a PTP and an infection commonly found in people with weakened immune systems, like people who are undergoing chemotherapy.

Scientists believe PTPs are involved in many diseases in addition to its function in cancer. Tremblay’s lab has discovered that PTPs are also involved in diabetes, obesity and spinal cord injuries.

“The domino effect of a small phosphate removal can have important consequences on health and causes all sortsof ailments,” he explained. Phosphatases can take away those phosphates, modifying the potential for a harmful cascade.

Today, there are many new tools available to help Tremblay and his team explore the field. The lab now has access to microscopy, genomics and genetics models and the Centre’s new metabolic and transgenic technology platforms.

“Each of the technologies that we use now are extremely expensive,” he said. “We have instruments that cost easily over a million dollars, which one lab cannot afford on its own—especially not without private funding.”

The funding available to scientists has gone down in the past few decades, Tremblay said, just as the cost of their work increases. “When I do obtain funding from a grant or from a philanthropic gift to the Centre,, I have always been extremely grateful,” he said.

“Philanthropy has allowed me to start new ideas and test new things that are now the core research topics of my laboratory.”

Tremblay’s involvement in GCRC activities has extended beyond his lab—such as his contribution in sporting a smile and a black leather jacket for the Centre’s 2013 “McGill Dances for Cancer Research” video. But Prof. Tremblay would prefer people focused on something other than his fancy footwork.
“I hope I’m better known for my science than my dancing,” he laughed.

Some of the work in Tremblay’s lab could never have been completed without philanthropic gifts, he noted. The GCRC Gala helps fund internal awards, which are crucial sources of support for researchers at the GCRC. These awards allow investigators and trainees to begin and continue their work and advance cancer research.  Find out how to support the Centre.