Dr. Guy Sauvageau, Université de Montréal

Engineering Blood Stem Cells for Tomorrow’s Medicine

The world of stem cell engineering provides us with opportunities for solving some of the most complex medical problems. That is the focus of Dr. Guy Sauvageau’s work at the Université de Montréal.

Dr. Sauvageau is the principal investigator at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC), where he focuses on using stem cells to produce innovative treatments for blood cancers. Such cancers impact the lives of more than 155,000 Canadians annually, and cost an average of $156,000 per patient in the first year following diagnosis, with upwards of $800,000 in costs to the health care system over a three-year period.

Modern cancer therapies increasingly rely on antibody-based drugs or genetically engineered immune cells that are programmed to recognize specific proteins on the surface of cancerous cells, while not attacking their healthy counterparts. The trouble is that, for many aggressive blood cancers, the leukemic and healthy blood cells express very similar proteins on their surface.

Dr. Sauvageau’s team is working to identify proteins with robust expression on leukemia cells and to engineer blood stem-cell grafts as a next-generation therapy for treating aggressive blood cancers. The goal of this project is to better target leukemia cells, while sparing the normal blood system regenerated from engineered stem cell transplants. In addition, Dr. Sauvageau’s team is looking to establish an improved method to deliver genetically engineered anti-leukemia immune cells into leukemia patients by completely modifying blood stem cells, which would allow for the regeneration of engineered immune cells for life. Overall, this research has the capability to vastly improve therapeutic prospects for leukemia patients.