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Janusz Rak

The Jack Cole Chair in Pediatric Oncology and Hematology


The Jack Cole Chair in Pediatric Oncology and Hematology was established in 1997 at McGill University by the Cole Foundation, The Chair provides for the highest level of research and teaching in pediatric oncology and hematology by enabling McGill to support an outstanding researcher in these critical fields of medicine. The Jack Cole Chair was the Foundation’s first landmark gift to the University and its Faculty of Medicine. Dr. Janusz Rak has held the Jack Cole Chair in Pediatric Oncology and Hematology since April of 2006, when he joined McGill as an Associate Professor in the Department of Pediatrics and an Associate Member of the Division of Experimental Medicine (Department of Medicine). He is also a researcher in the Cancer Axis at the Research Institute of the McGill University

Health Centre at the Montreal Children’s Hospital. Dr. Rak graduated from the Medical Academy in Wroclaw, Poland, in 1980. He received his PhD in tumor biology from the Ludwik Hirszfeld Institute of Immunology and Experimental Therapy, Polish Academy of Sciences, in 1986 for studies on transplantable tumor models as predictors of treatment efficacy in cancer, changes in tumor-host interactions resulting from anti-cancer treatment, and interactions between tumor cells and the vasculature in the course of cancer metastasis. In 1988, as a recipient of the Fulbright-Hays Postdoctoral Scholarship, he joined the Michigan Cancer Foundation in Detroit, Michigan, where he worked on tumor cell heterogeneity, tumor cell interactions in metastasis, alterations in cancer cell glycosylation, and the role of ras oncogene in tumor progression. Dr. Rak pursued similar areas of research during his subsequent postdoctoral work with Dr. Robert S. Kerbel at the University of Toronto. In 2000, Dr. Rak joined the Henderson Research Centre at McMaster University, where he held the title of Assistant Professor affiliated with the Department of Medicine and the Division of Oncology until coming to McGill.

Dr. Rak’s research revolves around understanding the role of the vascular system in the development, progression, and responsiveness to therapy of human cancers, particularly those affecting children. In fact, it is now known that pediatric malignancies, including leukemia, are dependent on processes of vascular growth (angiogenesis), as blood vessels ‘communicate’ with and stimulate cancer cells in a number of ways. Dr. Rak pioneered studies on the interrelationship between genetic tumor progression (i.e. the action of oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes, and aberrant intracellular signaling pathways) in the regulation of angiogenic and procoagulant properties of cancer cells and their related capacity to use the vascular system as a vehicle for tumor growth and spreading. His laboratory is studying the role of molecules such as tissue factor (TF), vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), and thrombospondin (TSP-i) in these processes. Trie lab also studies interactions between cancer cells, their associated stroma, blood vessels, and blood in generating conditions for aggressive tumor growth. In so doing, they concurrently explore the role of drugs targeting oncogenes (targeted agents), blood vessels (antiangiogenic agents), and the coagulation system (anticoagulants) in bringing such growth under control. Dr. Rak is also probing why traditional and novel treatments (e.g. antiangiogenesis) are sometimes ineffective in treating cancers (e.g. due to drug resistance), and he aims to find ways to use these agents more effectively. By better understanding how tumors interact with blood vessels, and how these interactions differ between malignancies affecting adults and children, Dr. Rak’s research will hopefully lead to better treatment of cancers affecting children.