Media Release

SFU makes Time’s top 10-list of medical breakthroughs

December 16, 2011

Robert Holt, 604.675.8165,
Carol Thorbes, PAMR, 778.782.3035,

A medical discovery involving three Simon Fraser University scientists is on Time Magazine’s top 10-list of medical breakthroughs in 2011.

In October, the journal Genome Research published two studies that uncovered the first evidence of a link between human colorectal cancer and the bacterium Fusobacterium.

Robert Holt — a senior author on one of the studies, an SFU associate professor of molecular biology and biochemistry (MBB) and a BC Cancer Agency scientist — said at the time: “We were surprised by this result. Although Fusobacterium is a known infectious agent, it is rarely in the contents of a normal gut and until now hasn’t been associated with cancer.”

The discovery could lead to new treatments for not just colon cancer but of other cancers caused by bacteria or viruses.

“Our future directions are to further investigate the possibility that Fusobacterium could be a direct cause of colon cancer and if so by what mechanism,” says Holt.

“We will be also be applying the same methodology to look for correlations between infectious agents in other types of cancer. If Fusobacterium is proven to cause colorectal cancer, then targeting it with antibiotics or vaccines may provide a new approach to colon cancer treatment or prevention.”

Richard Moore, an adjunct professor in SFU’s Faculty of Health Sciences and a BC Cancer Agency researcher, and Mauro Castellarin, an SFU MBB doctoral student, worked with Holt on the study being lauded by Time.

The magazine puts the significance of the breakthrough on a par with the creation of the first-ever malaria vaccine and the use of HIV treatment to keep people free of the virus. The other two discoveries are also on Time’s top 10-list of medical breakthroughs for 2011.


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