I have been primarily interested in potential clinical applications of medical research and thus in its translational side. I began working in a clinical laboratory as a medical student and later, I worked at the Clinical Research Institute of Montreal while pursuing a PhD Program at McGill’s Department of Medicine. This training provided further in-depth training on vasculature and its control, which was highly relevant when I decided to switch to the challenging field of oncology. For my post-PhD training, I went to the NCI’s Laboratory of Molecular Biology, which is focused on targeted therapy of cancer. There, we produced the first conjugate candidate drug showing anti-tumor efficacy in a hard-to-treat model of colorectal cancer among other contributions to targeted therapies of cancer. In my first independent academic position, I led a Laboratory of Molecular Targeting at the University of Montreal, Hotel-Dieu Hospital Research Center. I designed and produced the first generation cytotoxin based on wild-type interleukin 13 (IL-13), and continued this line of research at the Department of Neurosurgery at Penn State’s Hershey Medical Center. Importantly, this cytotoxin went through Phase III clinical trials in patients with recurrent glioblastoma (GBM), which is the most prevalent malignant brain tumor, showing clinical efficacy. My laboratory discovered the first factor in GBM over-expressed in majority of tumors, but not normal brain – IL-13RA2 receptor. In 2004, I joined Wake Forest School of Medicine. I continued search for targets for anti-cancer therapies and designed advanced forms of GBM-specific cytotoxins while developing the concept of combinatorial therapy of GBM. My lab was first to document the phenotypic tumor heterogeneity and then first tri-molecular signature of GBM: IL-13RA2, EphA2 receptor and fos-related antigen 1 (FRA-1). Our work has been a substrate for numerous translational applications, many being tested in the clinic. My extensive experience in successful discovery of targets specific to cancer, their pathophysiological role in cancer, and rational engineering of targeted recombinant proteins (including chimera and conjugated proteins, and peptides), enabled development of novel, specific and promising means of detecting and treating cancers over-expressing tumor-specific and tumor-associated antigens. I have particular interest in loco-regional delivery of drugs to brain tumors, especially in the convection-enhanced delivery (CED) and faithful large animal models of the disease. My research has been continuously supported by federal, provincial, institutional or private funding sources for the past almost 25 years. I have been the Tom and Laura Hearn Professor for the Brain Tumor Center of Excellence since 2019.
Debinski Lab - Focusing on the identification of molecular markers/targets that are specific to brain tumors and are pharmaceutically tractable.
Educational Program Involvement
Cancer Biology PhD
Program Research Interest: Cellular defense and metabolism, Aberrant signaling pathways in tumor cells, Cell growth and survival, Molecular cancer epidemiology, Gene-environment interactions, Cancer control
Molecular Genetics and Genomics PhD
Program Research Interest: Identification of genetic variants that contribute to complex disease, Gene-environment interactions, Epigenetics, Genetic epidemiology, Bioinformatics