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Prof. Vincent Giguère's Legacy: Molecular endocrinology and nuclear receptors

Prof. Vincent Giguère
Prof. Giguère is recognized as a pioneer and a global leader in the field of molecular endocrinology. His identification of some of the most important nuclear receptors, which are transcriptional regulators occupying a central position in normal mammalian development and physiology, as well as being strongly implicated in many diseases, laid the groundwork for decades of subsequent discovery. His research has been recognized by the Pfizer Fellow Award from the Institut de Recherches Cliniques de Montréal, the Merck Frosst Award for Excellence in Research from the Department of Medicine at McGill, and induction as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2009.  

In 1994, Prof. Giguère was recruited by McGill University to head the Molecular Oncology Group (MOG), a division of the Department of Medicine. While leading this vibrant group, which became part of the Goodman Cancer Research Centre (now the GCI) in 2008, he worked closely with collaborators at McGill to establish a program of national and international significance in cancer metabolism, a nascent field at the time. He led applications to the CFI and Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI) to establish a core facility and research team dedicated to identifying the metabolic vulnerabilities of cancer. This TFRI program was renewed in 2015 under Prof. Giguère’s leadership and again in 2019 with Prof. Peter Siegel as leader.  

Another important aspect of Prof. Giguère’s engagement has been his work with pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies, which has ensured that his technological advances and research discoveries have been translated and commercialized. 

Prof. Giguère’s legacy of creativity and discovery includes the development of highly innovative research methods and technologies such as the co-transfection assay, the most important technique for directly monitoring the activity of a transcription factor. He used this approach to determine the functional domains of the glucocorticoid receptor, the first mammalian transcription factor to be cloned. The schematic diagram representing the functional domains of nuclear receptors derived from these experiments has not changed since then and is still in use in many textbooks today.  

Applying the same ground-breaking methodology, Prof. Giguère discovered a nuclear receptor for retinoic acid, the active form of vitamin A. This discovery completely transformed the field of vitamin A research and subsequent work on retinoid signaling by his own team and many other groups led to our current understanding of the molecular basis of the teratogenic effects of retinoids in humans, the aetiology of acute promyelocytic leukemia (PML) and other malignancies, and eventually a cure for PML using high doses of retinoic acid in combination with other therapeutic agents.  

Timeline of discoveries, from the Giguère lab website
He then revealed the unanticipated existence of orphan nuclear receptors without known hormone ligands. Based on this revolutionary finding, the identification and subsequent study of novel receptor/hormone response systems completely transformed the science of endocrinology. For example, Prof. Giguère’s discovery and characterization of the estrogen-related receptors (ERRs) revealed a major regulatory node of cellular metabolism that is highly relevant to metabolic disorders, cardiovascular disease, several prominent cancers, and many other diseases. While the ERRs are orphan receptors, Prof. Giguère discovered their first synthetic ligands and has been instrumental in efforts to develop drugs that modulate their function to treat disease.

Fom the Giguère lab website
Prof. Giguère is also known for his multidisciplinary approach to science. In addition to being an accomplished molecular biologist, he was a pioneer in generating new mouse models by transgenesis and knockout gene technology in the early 1990s. He was also among the first to advance genome-wide omics approaches to study the interaction of transcription factors with their target genes at the beginning of the millennium.  

Prof. Giguère is a world leader in the field of nuclear hormone receptors, providing him with a very unique position in Canada as an international expert in a field that touches on diverse aspects of the health sciences. He has contributed to all facets of academic life, including by making several fundamental “textbook” discoveries, having important roles as a leader of scientific institutions, and mentoring the next generation of scientists.  

Prof. Giguère has had a truly remarkable career punctuated by discoveries that have shaped his fields of study, while contributing immensely to the development of research and training programs and providing outstanding service to the health sciences communities at McGill, across Canada, and globally.  

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