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Dr. Helen Mcneill

Lunenfeld- Tanenbaum
Research Institute
Mount Sinai Hospital
Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Health Complex
600 University Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
M5G 1X5

Tel.: 416-586-4800 ext.8267

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Dr. Helen McNeill


Dr. 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.

Dr. McNeill's research focuses on a gene called Ft, (known as 'fat'). Ft instructs cells on how they should interact with other cells, and how large to grow.

Mutations 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 malfunction.

Mutations 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.

At a Glance

Researches how cells organize into tissues

Focuses on a gene called Ft, (known as 'fat') that tells cells how they should interact with other cells, grow and die off

Looks at the role of the Ft gene in cancer, implicated in breast cancer, sarcomas and liver cancers

Won the Petro Canada Young Innovator's Award in 2006

Major Research Activities

A central problem in cell and developmental biology is understanding how cells and groups of cells become organized to form organs and tissues. One form of higher organization that is currently under intense investigation is planar cell polarity. Planar cell polarity is the coordinate organization of cells within the plane of a single layered sheet of cells.

Planar polarity is essential for tissue functioning: the planar polarity of the vertebrate inner ear is essential to proper hearing and balance; similarly, planar polarity of the fly eye is essential for accurate vision. We are using the fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, as a genetically tractable organism to investigate the genetic and molecular mechanisms underlying planar polarity.