New Canada Research Chair finds promise from proteins for cancer, neurodegenerative disease

With nearly 200,000 new cancer diagnoses expected in Canada this year alone, researchers are focusing on new keys to unlock our understanding of the disease.

“Mis-modified proteins contribute to the molecular basis of cancers and neurodegenerative diseases,” says Patrick O’Donoghue, who was recently named Canada Research Chair in Chemical Biology at Western University. “But, at this point, we don’t know what makes these proteins become dysfunctional.”

Proteins play important structural and functional roles in cells by establishing communication, converting food molecules into energy and copying or replicating genetic information that is passed on to the next generation. They are normally created from 20 typical amino acids, yet many non-canonical amino acids are essential to protein function and health.

O’Donoghue, who is jointly appointed at the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry and Western’s Faculty of Science, plans to synthesize modified proteins with non-canonical amino acids to understand how protein modifications alter function and cellular signaling in ways that contribute to disease. The end goal is to produce therapeutic tools that specifically target mis-modified proteins to treat cancer.

Previously, his research showed for the first time that it is possible to completely change the meaning of a codon at a specific site in a protein, hinting that it is possible to rewrite the genetic code altogether.

In addition, Giovanni Fanchini, Canada Research Chair in Carbon-based Nanomaterials and Nano-optoelectronics, recently had his chair renewed for five years. The Faculty of Science professor is exploring new, cheap, and user-friendly ways to create, manipulate and test electronic and optical nanodevices.

Media Contact: Douglas Keddy, Research Communications Manager, Western University, 519-661-2111, ext. 87485,

The Chairs program has been designed to encourage and promote top research and innovation in universities. Tier I Chairs are awarded $200,000 annually for seven years to fund their research and are awarded to outstanding researchers who have developed reputations as world leaders in their fields. Tier II Chairholders are awarded $100,000 annually for five years and are recognized as exceptional and emerging researchers with the potential to lead their respective fields.

For more information about the Canada Research Chairs program, please visit