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Meet CFRI’s new investigator: Q&A with Dr. Philipp Lange

March 09, 2016
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Philipp Lange
Dr. Philipp Lange is a new investigator at CFRI and BC Children's Hospital and an Assistant Professor in the Faculty of Medicine at the University of British Columbia. He was recently appointed Canada Research Chair (Tier 2) in Translational Proteomics of Pediatric Malignancies. Dr. Lange is opening up new areas of research at CFRI by building capacity for leading-edge technology that allows scientists to study disease at a molecular level. His research program is dedicated to developing new and better treatments for children with cancer. 

What are you working on right now?
Dr. Philipp Lange: In my lab, we're trying to understand how cancer cells differ from healthy, normal cells. Identifying these differences could help us diagnose cancer earlier and create more effective, targeted drugs. Specifically, we study leukemia, the most common childhood cancer, and certain types of brain cancer.

In order to compare cancer cells to healthy cells, we analyze the structure and function of proteins in the human body by employing a state-of-the-art technology called proteomics. Proteomics allows us to analyze all the proteins in a cell or tissue sample, rather than examining individual proteins. Proteins are the building blocks of cells and detecting changes in proteins in children with cancer will help us understand how cancer develops and progresses. I came to CFRI to build capacity for proteomics-centered research and to make this exciting technology more accessible to the other researchers here.

How could this research help children with cancer?
PL: Childhood cancers differ from adult cancers in significant ways and we need to study them individually to find cures. We hope our research will ultimately lead to new therapies that target the specific molecular mechanisms that lead to childhood cancers without harming healthy tissue.

I'm excited about the potential our research has to reduce the side effects of cancer treatment, which are particularly hard on children. Cancer cells grow and divide quickly, just like many of the normal cells in the body of a growing child. Because cancer cells are so similar to healthy cells in children, the chemotherapies we currently use to treat childhood cancer can cause severe side effects including irreversible organ damage. For example, survivors of childhood leukemia are more likely to suffer from heart disease and stroke as adults. Health conditions caused by chemotherapy place a significant burden on our health care system, one that will only get larger as treatments become more effective and more children with cancer survive to adulthood. These lifelong complications are also devastating for patients who survive one life-threatening illness only to develop other serious health problems years or decades later.

How did you become interested in this area of research?
PL: I started out studying the molecular pathways involved in osteopetrosis, a rare genetic condition that causes bones to harden and become denser leading to stunted and abnormal growth, increased risk of fractures, recurrent infections and other serious health problems. My work helped lead to the identification of genetic mutation that causes a particular subtype of osteopetrosis that cannot be successfully treated with bone marrow transplants. Because of our discovery, patients with this particular subtype are no longer subjected to unnecessary bone marrow transplants, a risky and invasive procedure that requires months of recovery time.

This experience sparked my interest in studying the molecular mechanisms of disease and showed me that research doesn't necessarily have to take years or decades to influence clinical practice. When scientists work closely with clinicians, our research can have an immediate impact on patient care.

What drew you to working at CFRI?
PL: I was attracted to the strong connection between CFRI and BC Children's Hospital, which enables close collaboration between oncologists and cancer researchers. I was also excited about the BC Children's Hospital BioBank, which collects blood and tissue samples for use in medical research with the consent of patients or their guardians. At other research institutions, accessing these sorts of samples takes significant time and effort on the researchers' part. Here at CFRI, the BioBank facilitates this process and speeds the pace of research.

What do you like to do outside of work?
PL: I love spending time outdoors and going camping and kayaking with my family.

Dr. Lange's research is made possible by the support of BC Children's Hospital Foundation.