Scientists take centre stage at friendly fundraising competition

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When Dr. Amber Couzens talks about the Hippo pathway, she is not referring to a large lumbering mammal. The post-doctoral researcher in the lab of Dr. Anne-Claude Gingras at Mount Sinai’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute is referencing the cellular pathway controlling organ size – a pathway that can contribute to human cancers if its regulation goes awry.

Dr. Couzens’ innovative research impressed the Leadership Sinai Venture Sinai 2 (LSVS 2) group during their inaugural dinner at Sopra Upper Lounge on February 26, 2014. As a result, the group honoured Dr. Couzens by naming her the first LSVS 2 Fellow.

Venture Sinai is a “Dragon’s Den” approach to fundraising for Mount Sinai Hospital’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, where like-minded philanthropists join forces to support areas of research they feel will have the most significant impact on the future of patient care. Every year, members are invited to attend an annual dinner with three promising scientists from the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum who present their research ideas to the group. Members then deliberate and honour one winner who receives the coveted title of “Venture Sinai Fellow” for an entire year. Over that year, Venture Sinai members are invited to visit the incumbent’s lab to learn more about the research highlights and progress made.

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This year’s friendly contest brought together curious donors, great food and insights into biomedical science from tomorrow’s leaders in health research. Dr. Couzens’ esteemed co-presenters from the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum included Dr. Mathieu Blais, a post-doctoral fellow investigating disease recurrence in women with node-negative breast cancer in the lab of Dr. Irene Andrulis, and Dr. Alexandre Orthwein, a post-doctoral fellow in the lab of Dr. Daniel Durocher, studying how healthy cells detect and repair damage to their DNA.

“All three presentations were quite compelling – it was a tough decision,” says Andrew Miller, Co-chair of the LSVS 2 group along with Bruce Freeman, Shawn Saraga and David Sherman. “However, Dr. Couzens’ focus seemed like a different way to study cancer. We were very interested in the creativity and innovation required for this unique approach to such a heavily studied disease, and we look forward to hearing about her future progress.”

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Dr. Couzens’ was quite pleased with the outcome. “The Hippo pathway is an emerging target for cancer therapies, and I was very honoured and happy to receive this award in recognition of my research,” she says. “I enjoyed the opportunity to share my work with Venture Sinai. It’s a great experience for young investigators to explain their work to people who are not scientists themselves but who choose to invest in research.”

The group is excited about what they can accomplish by directly funding research at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum. “Venture Sinai is a very unique way of supporting Mount Sinai,” says David Sherman, Co-chair of the LSVS 2 group. “I think our entire group finds the idea of investing in tangible research very appealing. The fact that we can follow up and see the progress of these investigations that we have helped to enable, and perhaps play a small part in the future treatment of debilitating diseases – it’s very motivating.”