­­­Dr. Mélanie Laurin is a regular researcher in the Oncology axis of the CHU of Quebec – Laval University Research Center. She is also an adjunct professor in the Department of Molecular Biology, Medical Biochemistry and Pathology at Laval University. Her research activities focus on understanding the molecular mechanisms that orchestrate skin embryonic development and how these can contribute when deregulated to skin cancer progression. Throughout her career, Dr. Laurin’s work has been published in prestigious journals. Notably, one of her breakthrough received a best publication award from the CIHR Institute of Cancer Research and was identified as a Top 10 discoveries funded by the Canadian Cancer Society in 2013. 

Understanding the molecular mechanisms of skin development and skin cancer progression

Basal cell carcinoma (BCC) of the skin is the most frequently occurring form of all human cancers. Due to the striking number of cases, BCC treatment creates a tremendous burden on the healthcare system. While BCCs may be easily treated via surgical removal, a significant number of patients with advance cases fail to respond, or develop resistance to currently available treatments. Dr. Laurin’s team is particularly interested in characterizing the role of Rho GTPase signalling networks during development and cancer progression. Due to their orchestration of cytoskeletal dynamics, these networks are emerging as key regulator of tissue development and tumoral invasion yet; their contribution to skin development and cancer progression had been so far neglected.

The use of a powerful model to identify new therapeutic target

To tackle her questions, Dr. Laurin uses a powerful technique that consist of injecting lentiviral particles in the amniotic cavity of mouse embryos, which allows the specific infection of mouse skin progenitors (Beronja et al., Nature Medicine 2010). This technique is extremely powerful, as it allows high-throughput screen, fast genetic perturbation and mosaic analysis in mice, approaches that have been otherwise restricted to invertebrate and lower vertebrate models. By using this technology in combination with molecular biology, cellular biology and proteomic approaches, the outcome of these studies will not only improve our understanding of skin tissue development, but they will have important implications for the identification of new therapeutic targets for the treatment of aggressive BCC cases.

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