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McGill, MUHC and Douglas researchers get top marks from Quebec Science magazine

This release is available in French.

Scientists from McGill University, the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) and the Douglas Mental Health University Institute earn top marks in Qubec Science's Top Ten Discoveries of 2008 for their groundbreaking work.

Published in the magazine's February issue, the prestigious annual ranking honours projects by: Alain Brunet, The Douglas/McGill Faculty of Medicine, Psychiatry; McGill Earth and Planetary Sciences professor Don Francis and Ph.D. candidate Jonathan O'Neil; leading cancer researchers Morag Park and Janusz Rak of McGill and the MUHC.

Jonathan O'Neil and Don Francis Shedding light on Earth's beginnings

McGill Earth and Planetary Sciences researchers Jonathan O'Neil, Ph.D. candidate, and professor Don Francis, were singled out for their discovery of Earth's oldest rocks, found in the Nuvvuagittuq greenstone belt located in Northern Quebec. The researchers used an isotopic tracer to obtain an age of 4.28 billion years for an unusual amphibolite comprised in the belt, making it 250 million years more ancient than any previously discovered terrestrial rocks. The findings offer scientists clues to the earliest stages of our planet's evolution. The rocks are significant not only for their great age but for their chemical composition which gives an unprecedented glimpse of the processes that formed Earth's early crust. "I'm really interested in how the Earth was created, and with these rocks, present very shortly after the Earth's birth, we can begin to understand how the first crust formed on our planet."

To interview Jonathan O'Neil/Prof. Don Francis: contact Cynthia Lee at 514-398-6754

Alain Brunet - Wiping away the trauma of bad memories

A clinical psychologist and associate professor of psychiatry at McGill, Alain Brunet, PhD, has been investigating the impact of psychological trauma on individuals for over 15 years, focusing on the risk factors and developing effective treatments for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). He has discovered a new use for an old medication -propranolol- the first drug that has the potential to cure PTSD. The treatment involves thinking about one's trauma under the influence of the drug. Propranolol works by partly blocking the emotional component of the trauma memory from being saved again into long term memory storage while leaving the other components of the memory intact. With this new discovery, Brunet reports patients being cured of PTSD after only six treatments.

To interview Dr. Brunet: contact Marie-France Coutu at (514) 761-6131, #2769

Morag Park - Uncovering the mysteries of cancerous cells

Dr. Morag Park, scientific director of the Canadian Institutes of Health Research's institute of cancer research focuses her work on the environment surrounding tumours in the breasts. "We know that this environment is pivotal for cancer initiation and progression; different patients have distinct tumour microenvironments at a gene level," explains Dr. Park. "Our findings show that the gene profile of these distinct microenvironments can be used to determine clinical outcome who will fare well and who will not." Her team has identified a panel of 26 specific genes that could be used to accurately predict clinical outcome. The next step is to produce a reliable functional test that could be performed on patients. They expect it to be ready for clinical trials at the end of 2009.

Janusz Rak Learning the language of tumours

Dr. Janusz Rak has discovered a new fundamental mechanism of how tumour cells communicate: by releasing bubble-like structures, called oncosomes, that contain cancer-causing proteins. When the oncosomes merge into a healthy recipient cell, they can trigger specific mechanisms to make it act in a malignant and aberrant way. "With this information we can imagine that many mutant proteins are not necessarily confined to the cells that make them, but rather can migrate and spread around," explained Dr. Rak. "This goes against the traditional view that a single 'mutated' cell will simply multiply uncontrollably to the point of forming a tumour. This discovery opens exciting new research avenues, but we also hope that it will lead to positive outcomes for patients."

To interview Drs. Rak or Park: contact Cynthia Lee at 514-398-6754


Contact: Cynthia Lee
McGill University

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