Science & Research

About the Manitoba Institute of Cell Biology

The Manitoba Institute of Cell Biology was founded jointly in 1969 by CancerCare Manitoba and the University of Manitoba/Faculty of Medicine under the leadership of the late Dr. Lyonel Israels.

Located in the CancerCare Manitoba Building, the institute is dedicated to basic cell research with the aim of advancing the understanding of cancer and blood disorders.

From its inception, the research taking place at the centre has tackled the big problems that have long challenged doctors and scientists investigating the molecular biology of cancer.

"Our mandate is excellence in the areas of research for cancer care and blood disorders, and to do that, we have a mixture of PhD scientists and clinician scientists," says Dr. Spencer Gibson, Director of the institute.

The partnership between the University of Manitoba and CancerCare Manitoba is what makes the institute a unique centre for cancer research in Canada. Because it connects specialists from the health-care system and academia - from the university to Health Sciences Centre Winnipeg to CancerCare Manitoba and other research and medical centres in Winnipeg - it brings to bear a wealth of knowledge from diverse disciplines in science and medicine.

"The founding director, Dr. Lyonel Israels, had a vision that in order for us to improve treatment of cancer and care of patients, we need an institute in which we could do basic discoveries on how cancer works and why we get cancer, so he created the Manitoba Institute of Cell Biology," Gibson says.

The institute is home to 17 principal investigators - all at the top of their respective fields of study - who work with teams of scientists, many of whom are graduate and postdoctoral students at the University of Manitoba's Faculty of Medicine, which is located just a short walk away at the Bannatyne Campus.

The work at the institute is based on three major research platforms: Genomic Centre for Cancer Research and Diagnosis, the Manitoba Tumour Bank and DNA Sequencing Services.

The Genomic Centre is a hub for genetic and epigenetic (manipulating genes) research using state-of-the-art microscopy and imaging techniques to understand the genetic makeup of both healthy and cancerous cells. The goals of the centre are to assist researchers doing basic and translational research, as well as the education of students and highly qualified researchers in DNA damage, cancer genetics and imaging here in Manitoba and from around the world.

The Manitoba Tumour Bank was created in 1993 to collect samples of malignant tumours so researchers would have a steady supply of tissue for study to help further the understanding of many types of cancers. Founded by Dr. Peter Watson, a pathologist now with the B.C. Cancer Agency, the tumour bank's ever-expanding collection of nearly 10,000 samples from 14 different types of cancer has greatly advanced researchers' ability to study the disease, says Gibson. "You're not working on an artificial system," he says. "You're actually working on material from a real cancer patient."

The third research platform at the institute is DNA Sequencing Services, which offers researchers access to innovative technology that allows genome sequencing of all genes, and access to data information personnel (bioinformatics) to analyze the data. This provides details of the genetic makeup of cancer cells and will hopefully be used in the future to help doctors tailor therapies to cancer patients.

The institute is funded through the partnership between the University of Manitoba and CancerCare Manitoba.

"The senior scientists who are at the institute, by and large, are employees of the University of Manitoba. We are professors at the U of M with the teaching mandates that are associated with that," Gibson says.

"By being housed at CancerCare Manitoba, the CancerCare Manitoba Foundation supports the operations of the institute. CancerCare Manitoba Foundation and its donors are important contributors to our research mission that can impact cancer patients."

Wave: March / April 2014

About Wave

Wave is published six times a year by the Winnipeg Health Region in cooperation with the Winnipeg Free Press. It is available at newsstands, hospitals and clinics throughout Winnipeg, as well as McNally Robinson Books.

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