Francis Boulva Memorial Fund: 2016 Report

The Francis Boulva Memorial Fund propels cutting-edge brain cancer research at The Neuro

The Francis Boulva Memorial Fund had simple beginnings. Born out of personal tragedy, the loss of a beloved and talented son in the prime of his life, 6 years later it has become the sustaining force behind one of the most advanced and productive brain tumour research programs in the country.

The TARGiT Molecule: DRR and Drug Discovery

Because of 6 incredible years of community investment in the TARGiT project, we’ve gone from insect animal models to small rodent animal models and now beyond—determining and reaffirming that the DRR molecule regulates signaling networks within brain cancer stem cells, and in fact controls the ability of these cancer stem cells to grow into tumours.

  • We’ve discovered that by modifying the DRR molecule within a stem cell using gene-editing techniques, we can silence its expression and stop the cell’s ability to invade the brain and grow into a tumour.
  • Through our partnership with one of the world’s largest biopharmaceutical firms, we have developed 4 new drugs that effectively target and silence DRR. If we can develop a treatment that consistently halts the growth of brain tumours, patient outcomes will dramatically improve.
  • The next step toward getting these new therapies into the hands of doctors and patients is ensuring that they don’t cause unwanted side effects in our disease models. Large quantities of these drugs are currently in production so that this round of testing can begin at The Neuro as soon as possible!

The Next Generation of Brain Cancer Treatment – Mutant Stem Cells Responsible for Tumours

Every 2-3 days, our stem cells divide and copy all 3 billion of their DNA base pairs. Mostly this keeps us healthy, but sometimes our cells make small errors which are then repeated every time the cell divides again. Some of these errors are harmless and give rise to the amazing diversity of humanity, and some of these errors are corrected naturally within the cells. But sometimes the error is critical and it reprograms the once normal stem cell into a mutated, cancer-causing stem cell. Why and how this happens is the basis of our research.

  • We are proud to announce that, for the first time, we have identified and captured the elusive mutated stem cells that give rise to low grade brain cancers. We can now study these cells to understand how they develop into cancers.
  • We’ve also determined that a brain cancer tumour contains both mutated and non-mutated stem cells simultaneously, meaning that normal stem cells go through at least one major change on their way to becoming cancerous. Thanks to advances in gene sequencing technology, we’ve been able to identify the chemical and genetic differences between the two types of cells.
  • We’re now using state-of-the-art bioinformatic tools to understand the events that cause the chemical and genomic differences we’ve observed. If we can figure out why normal stem cells first become dormant cancer stem cells, then aggressive cancer stem cells, we will revolutionize the way brain cancer is treated.


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The Neuro (Montreal Neurological Institute-Hospital) is a bilingual academic healthcare institution. We are a McGill research and teaching institute; delivering high-quality patient care, as part of the Neuroscience Mission of the McGill University Health Centre. We are proud to be a Killam Institution, supported by the Killam Trusts.




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