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Young researcher learning new skills

{Dr. Mike Woods}
Dr. Mike Woods. One of the important aspects of the multi-site Colorectal Cancer Study is to create new opportunities for young investigators. Dr. Mike Woods is one researcher benefiting from this. Last February he started working at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in Toronto, learning new molecular techniques and obtaining a broader understanding of genetics in general.

A native of St. John's, Dr. Woods did a PhD at Memorial under the supervision of Dr. Willie Davidson, Biochemistry, and Dr. Patrick Parfrey, Clinical Epidemiology.

"I'm working on hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer, which is an heritable cancer susceptibility syndrome (HNPCC)," explained Dr. Woods. "There are over 80 families in Newfoundland with this disease. One characteristic of the syndrome is polyps in the colon, which along with a blood sample, can be obtained, saved and analyzed."

In Toronto, Dr. Woods is doing further analysis to determine what alterations in the DNA are causing this disease. He is sequencing the DNA of a number of known HNPCC genes to try and determine what the alterations are in these families that cause the disease. He's already determined the genetic alteration in a few of the families.

"Once we know what the primary genetic defect is, the geneticists and genetic counselors can go back to the families and more accurately counsel them and provide an adequate screening protocol."

Because this type of colon cancer occurs on average in people about 40 years of old, those at risk can be screened with regular colonoscopies if they carry the gene. "There are a lot of psychological issues involved," said Dr. Woods. "If you have the mutation, there's about an 80 per cent chance you will develop cancer within your lifetime. The good news is this is a disease that can be stopped - the polyps can be removed before they become cancerous."

At the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute, which is part of Mt. Sinai Hospital, Dr. Woods' work is supervised by Dr. Bharati Bapat.
Dr. Woods expects to remain in Toronto until at least next February, at which point he will return to St. John's to continue work with the project. "As a researcher I like working on a project with clinical benefits. This is a good opportunity to learn more about the disease and by studying a subset of colon cancer we hope to find applications to the more common sporadic kind of colon cancer."

{Memorial University of Newfoundland}