Principal investigator Gregory Emery awarded a grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research

Published on March 14, 2023

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Project Grants support original ideas with the potential to advance basic and applied health knowledge. The most recent competition, held in the fall of 2022, funded 382 applications for a total investment of $325 million. IRIC congratulate Gregory Emery, Director of its Vesicular Transport and Cell Signalling Research Unit, who has been awarded a five-year $963,900 grant for the project “Regulation of collective cell migration by the kinase Misshapen”.

Professor Emery agreed to answer a few questions about this grant:


How did you come to study collective cell migration and the Misshapen protein?

Gregory Emery (G. E.): When I was finishing my Ph. D. in Biochemistry at the University of Geneva, I was looking for a model to be able to study cell biology in vivo. I wanted to find a subject related to human health or neurobiology issues. I strongly hesitated between two laboratories that used Drosophila as a model, one of which was Pernille Rørth’s laboratory at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) in Heidelberg, which was working on collective cell migration. I chose instead the laboratory of Jürgen Knoblich at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology (IMP) in Vienna, which was working on asymmetric cell division in the nervous system. As I have always had a soft spot for collective migration, we started a project on this topic when my lab opened in 2007. This project, which was only meant to be a side project, has since grown to become our main research topic.


What are the objectives of the CIHR-funded project?

G. E.: Our project uses a very powerful model of collective cell migration: the migration of “border” cells in the Drosophila ovary. This migration recapitulates various aspects of human metastasis formation in a system that is relatively simple to manipulate and observe. A feature of collective cell migration is that cells must coordinate and organize themselves, with cells leading the migration and other cells following the leading cells. About ten years ago, our team discovered one of the key mechanisms, involving the Misshapen protein, that allows this coordination. The main goal of our project is to better understand the mechanisms by which Misshapen is regulated and how it coordinates collective migration.

In parallel, results from my laboratory and from other teams indicate that the human form of this protein plays a fundamental role in cancer progression, metastasis and cancer cell migration. Our project could therefore possibly open up interesting new therapeutic avenues, although we are obviously very far from it at the moment!



What does this grant mean to you and your team?

G. E.: This grant comes at a very important time for us. In fact, despite the pandemic, our team has been enriched with new recruits. At the same time, some of the more experienced people have left the lab. With the funds received, we will be able to strengthen our team by recruiting experienced scientists. The grant will also allow our projects to progress more quickly and, since the funding is for five years, we will have the opportunity to be more ambitious and adventurous in their realization. Indeed, in addition to continuing our research on a solid foundation, we believe that it is by thinking outside the box that we will make our most important discoveries!