(September 7, 2011 – Toronto, ON) The Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute’s Dr. Frank Sicheri has been inaugurated into the Royal Society of Canada, in recognition of his innovative research into the molecular bases of cancer, viral infection and diabetes.
Dr. Sicheri is one of Canada’s pre-eminent scientists in his field and is renowned for his expertise in structural biology. He has made outstanding contributions to scientists’ understanding of the structure and function of a number of molecules, many of which are implicated in disease.
“I am flattered to be elected to such a prestigious society and to be included among a list of distinguished scholars of various disciplines,” says Dr. Sicheri who is a Senior Investigator at the Lunenfeld.
Specifically, Dr. Sicheri’s research is focused on a family of enzymes called protein kinases. These molecules are ‘master switches’ in our cells that regulate key biological processes. To date, only a fraction of the 500 protein kinases encoded in the human genome have been explored. When they malfunction, which can occur with genetic mutation or after viral infection, cells are unable to conduct their functions normally. For example, in cancer, aberrant kinases cause cells to grow and multiply uncontrollably.
“One of the fascinating things about this area of research is that protein kinases are key players in cellular communication. They are regulatory hubs poised for cellular control, such that when they don’t work, it can wreak havoc on a cellular level,” says Dr. Sicheri.
His lab uses a technology called protein crystallography, which involves the use of high-powered x-rays to determine the detailed structure of individual protein domains and their assembly into higher-order complexes. “What we really want is to observe a protein in action, to see how it works and what parts of its structure are responsible for carrying out specific functions,” explains Dr. Sicheri.
This past July, Dr. Sicheri’s lab, in collaboration with colleagues at Celgene Corporation, the Université de Montréal and the University of Edinburgh, discovered how a small molecule selectively inhibits a key enzyme involved in the regulation of key cellular growth processes. The discovery provides researchers with a greater understanding of cellular control processes, and may also lead to the development of newer, more sophisticated designer drugs to treat cancer and other illnesses.
The study was published in the leading biomedical journal Cell.
“Protein kinases are already targets for some of the most successful anti-cancer drugs in the clinic,” said Dr. Sicheri. “By studying these proteins, we may be able to design drugs that have unprecedented precision in targeting cancer cells while reducing the toxic side effects for patients.”
Dr. Sicheri has made other important discoveries about protein kinases, including solving the structure of a kinase known to be active in colon cancer, and another that suppresses tumour formation.
A Toronto native, Dr. Sicheri completed his PhD at McMaster University and conducted his post-doctoral studies at The Rockefeller University in New York, before joining the Lunenfeld in 1998. Over the past decade, he has earned the reputation of being among the most highly ranked of North America’s structural biologists.
“Frank has a great personality to match his research talents and its fantastic that he’s been recognized by his peers in this way. We are very proud of him and his research team,” said Dr. Jim Woodgett, Director of Research at the Lunenfeld.
The Royal Society of Canada is devoted to recognizing excellence in learning and research, as well as celebrating accomplishments in the arts, humanities and sciences. The Society consists of nearly 2,000 fellows who are selected by their peers for outstanding contributions to the natural and social sciences, arts and humanities. This year's new Fellows will be inducted to the Society during the Induction and Awards Ceremony on November 26 at the Ottawa Convention Centre in Ottawa.