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World Brain Tumour Day

June 8th is World Brain Tumour Day! The “Deutsche Hirntumorhilfe e.V.” (German Brain Tumor Association) started this international commemoration day in the year 2000 as a tribute to all brain tumour patients and their families. It is our pleasure to be a part of this global initiative and help raise awareness around the world. Check out our interview with trainee Alexander Nowakowski to learn about his ongoing research into metastatic brain tumours at the Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Institute (GCI). 

Name: Alexander Nowakowski

Lab: Dr. Peter Siegel and Dr. Claire Brown

Year: MSc 2

As cancer progresses, it can spread to tissues other than the primary tumor through a process called metastasis. Cancers that start in the skin, lung, breast, and kidney can spread to many different organs, including the brain. This can be quite a severe occurrence for patients with survival being on average less than a year as brain metastases can be very hard to treat. As such, it is of utmost importance that we research brain metastases to better understand them, hopefully paving the way towards better outcomes for patients.


Work by the Siegel lab has shown that patients with brain metastases will show one of two patterns. Either the tumor cells will stay confined, or they will spread further into the brain tissue. Looking at how patients do after surgery, those with confined tumors will often survive longer than those with more invasion. We are still uncovering what mechanisms drive these differences. In my work as a master’s student in the GCI, with the help of my co-supervisors Dr. Peter Siegel and Dr. Claire Brown, I have developed a method to use microscopy to make time-lapse movies of cancer cells moving within living brain tissue in a dish. This allows me to better understand what intrinsic properties of melanoma cells drive aggressiveness once in the brain. In addition, I can look at how the cancer cells interact with the diverse environment of the brain, including the blood vessels that surround the tumor.


I hope that this work, alongside that of my colleagues in the Siegel lab and the GCI, will help us understand brain tumors and push us forward to the goal of better treatments and outcomes for the cancer patients that need it.


You can reach out to Alexander at alexander.nowakowski@mail.mcgill.ca

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