Matthew Benesch

Killam Doctoral Scholarship and Dorothy J. Killam Memorial Graduate Prize Recipient

University of Alberta

Cancer remains one of the most difficult diseases to treat. Despite the best efforts of physicians, many deaths are caused because patients gradually cease to respond to their treatment. This enables the cancer to spread throughout the body and establish additional tumors.  This development of resistance to treatment and spread of the cancer is associated with increased expression of signals that help cancer cells survive therapy and continue to grow.  Understanding how these signals work and how to counteract them will provide more options for treating cancer patients.  One of these survival signals comes from a compound called autotaxin. Autotaxin is not properly regulated and its production increases during many cancer treatments.  This results in the production of more survival signals, which makes cancers more difficult to treat.  It is commonly believed that autotaxin is overexpressed in the cancer cells themselves.  My research is showing that most autotaxin expression comes from normal cells that surround the cancer cells. These normal cells respond to damage produced by cancer treatments during chemotherapy and radiation therapy.  As a result, these normal cells increase their production of autotaxin to protect themselves and to repair the damage. Equally, cancer cells interact with the normal cells that surround the tumor and increase the production of autotaxin.  This allows cancer cells to acquire even more autotaxin from normal cells and ensure their survival. These events are part of a vicious cycle that gradually decreases the effectiveness of the treatments for the cancer patient. The purpose of my work is to understand the interactions between normal cells and cancer cells within the tumor. By doing this, I will discover how to prevent the production of autotaxin and therefore be able to improve the effectiveness of treatment for cancer patients.

What it means to be a Killam Laureate
I began my MD/PhD program at the University of Alberta as a Canada Graduate Vanier Scholar. Now as a Killam Laureate, this award recognizes the impact and value of my research as it matures.

How Killam Funding has benefited you
Funding from agencies like the Killam Trusts enables me to devote my undivided attention to my studies and greatly facilitates international travel where I can both disseminate my knowledge and gain valuable insights from collaborators to push my research even further.

Why you chose the University of Alberta
I chose the University of Alberta as my home institution to work with some of the best people in my field.  My work is co-supervised by both basic scientists and clinicians, which enables the rapid translation of my benchtop findings into patient validation and eventual clinical trials.


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