A cell line being developed by Western musculoskeletal researcher Dr. Cheryle Séguin may hold the key researchers need to unlock the secrets of chordoma. And now, thanks in part to seed funding provided by the Chordoma Foundation, the Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry professor’s continued research could shed light on the cause of and potential therapies for the mysterious cancer.
After years of work, Séguin and her colleagues succeeded in developing a one-of-a-kind genetically engineered mouse enabling researchers to observe and manipulate an embryonic tissue called the notochord. Notochord is important because during development it gives rise to the intervertebral disc, the degeneration of which is the primary cause of back pain afflicting millions of people worldwide.
In addition to forming the discs, some notochordal cells get lodged inside the developing vertebrae, and, in about one in five people, these notochordal cells form small benign tumors inside the spine. Occasionally, these benign notochordal cell tumors turn malignant and become a cancer known as chordoma.
Little is known about what causes notochordal cells to turn into chordoma, but now Séguin’s mouse makes it possible to study that transformation. To do so, Séguin needs to isolate notochordal cells from her mouse and turn them into a cell line – a constantly dividing family of cells grown in a petri-dish.
Creating a notochordal cell line will give scientists a blank slate upon which to introduce genetic changes to see which cellular pathways become activated and cause the cells to become cancerous. This could shed light on the cause of chordoma, and, in turn, could point to potential therapies that address the root cause of chordoma.
The $25,000 seed grant will support Séguin’s attempts to develop the world’s first notochordal cell line.
This grant was made possible by funds raised through the fourth annual Purple Aster Concert, an annual music event in Calgary, held in memory of chordoma patient Alison Laird. The concert is organized by Laird’s husband, Ian, and friend, Carolyn Harley. Chordoma Foundation board member, Ed Les, also of Calgary, matched donations by concertgoers to fully sponsor the grant.