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Nathalie Johnson

Identification of predictive biomarkers of response in lymphomas presenting in children, adolescents and young adults

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Nathalie Johnson, MD, PhD, FRCPC

Nathalie Johnson is an Assistant Professor in the Division of Medicine, Hematology and Oncology, based at the Jewish General Hospital as of July 2010.  Dr. Johnson completed her medical studies at the University of Ottawa and internal medicine and hematology-oncology training at McGill.  She subsequently completed a clinical fellowship in molecular pathology at the British Columbia Cancer Agency in Vancouver followed by a PhD in pathology and laboratory medicine at the University of British Columbia.  She has been awarded a Fonds de la recherché en santé (FRSQ) Chercheurs-boursiers cliniciens award and a Canada Research Chair in Hematologiy and Oncology in 2011.  Dr. Johnson’s research focuses on studying the inherent biological properties of cancer cells that render them more resistant to chemotherapy.

Dr. Johnson’s laboratory conducts translational research in the field of lymphoma, with a major emphasis on aggressive lymphoma subtypes that are most prevalent in the adolescent and young adult population.  Dr. Johnson is the only hematologist within the McGill University Adolescent & Young Adult Program to address the clinical needs and scientific questions pertaining to this patient population.  She studies the role of recurrent genetic abnormalities in lymphoma cells on impacting protein function, response to chemotherapy and clinical outcome.  She also investigates the use of biological markers in predicting response to conventional chemotherapy and novel “targeted” agents.  She focuses of the genes and proteins that are important in inhibiting cell death following chemotherapy, such as the BCL2 family of proteins and cell surface “death” receptors.  She uses techniques that are already used in clinical laboratories such as flow cytometry and immunohistochemistry, such that novel and clinically relevant biomarkers can be rapidly introduced in the clinical setting.  In addition, she uses more “cutting-edge” techniques, such as next generation sequencing technology, to discover novel genomic alterations that may improve the diagnosis and treatment strategies in patients with lymphoma.

In order to truly translate this basic science into clinical research, it is important to study the biological events in patient-derived primary tumour tissue and perform the necessary clinical correlates.  As such, Dr. Johnson is actively involved in tissue banking and is the director of the lymphoma banking activities within the “Banque de Cellules Leucémiques du Québec” (BCLQ), located at the Jewish General Hospital.

The funds provided by the Cole foundation are being directed towards tissue banking pediatric and young adult lymphomas and research in this field.  In collaboration with Dr. Josée Hébert, the head of the Quebec Leukemia Cell Bank, Nathalie has expanded the Quebec Cell Bank to include lymphoma tissue.  In addition, she plans to create tissue micro-arrays from archived lymphoma samples that are embedded in paraffin, which makes them stable for long term storage.  Each sample will have links to clinical information and outcome.  Both the frozen samples and tissue arrays would be a very valuable resource to perform any genomic or proteomic study investigating the prognostic impact of various biological parameters.

The ultimate goal of Dr. Johnson’s research is to improve the clinical outcome of patients suffering from hematological cancers by accelerating the transition of novel scientific knowledge into clinical practice.