The MUHC Foundation is thrilled to announce that Dr. Julia Valdemarin Burnier, Junior Scientist at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and Assistant Professor in the Departments of Oncology and Pathology at McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, has received one of 15 inaugural Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) Emerging Scholar Awards. This award will provide research funding to Dr. Burnier over the next five years to support her research on how tumour cells shed DNA into bodily fluids like blood.

“The funding from the CCS will undoubtedly impact the next phase of my research program,” says Dr. Burnier. “Not only will my project be realized, but the funding allows me to also focus on my career development and to become a better leader and mentor to the next generation of scientists.”

After completing her PhD in cancer biology at McGill University, Dr. Burnier completed post-doctoral fellowships at both McGill and the Centre for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona. Her current focus is on the use of liquid biopsy to monitor disease. When cancer is present in the body, it sheds small pieces of its DNA into the blood stream. Liquid biopsy involves detecting this DNA, allowing physicians to monitor the progression and spread of cancer in each individual patient. This technology is an important step in the evolution of cancer treatment, and has the potential to help physicians detect cancer in the body even before a tumour has formed.

“My lab looks closely at circulating tumour DNA as a biomarker of cancer using liquid biopsy,” she explains. “However, little is known about the mechanisms underlying how cells secrete DNA into the bloodstream. The goal of this five-year project is to investigate the origins of circulating tumour DNA, so that we can better make sense of liquid biopsy data, which in turns translates to more personalized and less invasive cancer monitoring. This has great impact on the quality of life of patients living with cancer.”

The CCS launched the Emerging Scholar Award program with the aim of establishing and advancing promising early career scientists and clinician-scientists from across Canada with a focus on cancer research.

“Supporting promising young cancer researchers today is crucial to ensuring that we continue to drive progress against cancer tomorrow and in the decades to come,” says Dr. Judy Bray, Vice-President, Research at CCS. “That’s why, thanks to our supporters, we are investing in the next generation of researchers to accelerate change in preventing cancers and help people with and beyond cancer live longer, fuller lives.”

“I am absolutely delighted that Dr. Burnier received this award,” says Julie Quenneville, President and CEO of the MUHC Foundation. “Liquid biopsy is a powerful new tool for diagnosis and monitoring of cancer, and Dr. Burnier is one of Montreal’s foremost experts in this area. I look forward to seeing her career flourish in the years to come.”

Congratulations Dr. Burnier!