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Dr. Doug Gray is investigating how lung cancer develops


How does cancer develop in the lungs? Can we find a way to stop it in its tracks?

“In lung cancer, mutations in the cells accumulate over time leading to cancer,” says Dr. Douglas Gray. “That is why we usually see lung cancer in older patients and almost never in children.” Dr. Gray holds the University of Ottawa Joan Sealy Chair in Lung Cancer Research and is a Senior Scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute.

About 85% of lung cancer is attributable to tobacco use, but even in non-smokers lung cancer is a major cause of cancer death in older adults. Dr. Gray says that progress in treating and preventing the disease depends on understanding how DNA errors (or mutations) build up in the cancer cells and why they are not repaired correctly. Early in his career, Dr. Gray discovered one of the first genes in the human ubiquitin pathway and became interested in ubiquitin’s role in DNA repair. More recently he has studied how manipulating ubiquitin levels affects the formation and growth of cancer cells.

“High levels of ubiquitin appear to encourage a form of DNA repair that is error-prone, and we are interesting in knowing how dependent cancer cells are on ubiquitin,” says Dr. Gray. “If we could target this pathway with treatments, we might be able to stop the cancer’s growth.”

Dr. Gray recently received a grant from the Canadian Cancer Society to investigate a newly-identified group of cells know as BASC or bronchioalveolar stem cells. “These cells are really a blank slate,” says Dr. Gray. “BASC were first described in a paper written only three years ago. These cells are an important new focal point for research, because we think that they are where most lung cancers begin.”

Applying Dr. Gray’s previous work on ubiquitin to these cells might one day lead to a way to stop lung cancer at the very earliest stages.

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This OHRI Scientist in the Spotlight was adapted from a recent Canadian Cancer Society profile of Dr. Gray.

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