Helen McNeill’s groundbreaking work looks at how cells organize into
tissues. At heart is the question of why one cell stops growing while
others surge out of control through the body. A better understanding of
this process is critical in cancer research, a disease characterized by
uncontrolled cell growth.
McNeill’s research focuses on a gene called Ft, (known as “fat”). Ft
instructs cells how they should interact with other cells, and how
large to grow.
in the Ft gene can cause cells to overgrow and turn into tumours. Ft is
also involved in a cellular pathway implicated in a large number of
human cancers, including breast cancer, sarcomas and liver
cancer. Ft regulates the Hippo Kinase pathway, a pathway that is
mutated in many different cancers. Dr. McNeill is investigating the
specific role Ft plays with the hope of identifying new treatment
targets for cancer and other diseases related to Ft
of the Ft gene could also become a biomarker to help identify women at
most risk of breast cancer recurrence. Dr. McNeill is currently
collaborating with Dr. Irene Andrulis, a breast cancer researcher at
the Lunenfeld, to combine genetic findings with population data related
to breast cancer, which has a recurrence rate of 20%. Dr. McNeill's
research will look at the genetic basis for how and why some cancer
patients relapse in hopes of helping doctors identify patients that are
more likely to experience recurrence of the disease.