Behind the Breakthrough

Dr. Catherine O’Brien on the world-first discovery that colorectal cancer cells hibernate like bears to evade chemotherapy

November 1, 2021

Chemotherapy works by essentially poisoning cancer cells, which grow more quickly than most normal cells, and thus absorb a lot of the toxic drugs. It has been regarded as a standard treatment in cancer care for decades, and can work wonders, especially early in a person’s treatment. But over time, these drugs may stop working. Dr. Catherine O’Brien and her team at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre were trying to figure out how cancer cells apparently become resistant to chemotherapy when they made the discovery that the cells can enter a state akin to hibernation to avoid the toxic onslaught of the drugs.

In this episode of the Behind the Breakthrough, Dr O’Brien discusses how her team made this groundbreaking discovery and how it may lead to unique therapeutic opportunities for patients in the future. She also discusses the importance of making connections between different scientific disciplines, and how a Grade 10 career day spent with a female surgeon inspired her to pursue a career in surgery herself.

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