Identifying novel driver mutations and pathways in lymphoma: An alumnus and senior scientist at the GSC that pioneered the use of Next Generation Sequencing to study driver mutations in non-Hodgkin lymphomas, Dr. Ryan Morin is one 16 speakers that will present at the GSC’s 20th Anniversary Symposium, November 21, 2019. 

Ryan MorinWhen Dr. Ryan Morin began working at the Genome Sciences Centre in 2004, fresh out of his undergraduate degree, he had no prior experience in genomics. It turns out that his experience as a DNA sequence finisher at the GSC would fuel his passion for cancer genomics, setting him on his path to graduate school and ultimately towards becoming an Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University and a Senior Scientist at the GSC.

“What really drew me in was working on assembling whole genomes. It is essentially like a big puzzle. I like a challenge; I like to solve puzzles,” says Dr. Morin, “And you get to make something useful out of it. That was really appealing to me.” 

Dr. Morin remained at the GSC for his graduate work, obtaining his PhD under the supervision of Dr. Marco Marra. At the time, the laboratory was one of the few in the world using Next Generation Sequencing to study the genomics of lymphoma. Pioneering the use of these new technologies to discover driver mutations in non-Hodgkin lymphomas enabled his discovery of a recurrent “hot spot” mutation in the gene EZH2. Following publication of his findings in Nature Genetics, the group received almost immediate interest from pharmaceutical companies. Inhibitors of EZH2 are now in Phase II clinical trials and showing efficacy in lymphoma patients with this mutation.

“It was exciting to find a new feature of lymphoma that nobody would have been able to find without this technology. It set the stage for what was ultimately a drug development program for new treatments for lymphoma patients,” says Dr. Morin.

Dr. Morin’s laboratory at SFU continues to identify novel driver mutations and pathways in lymphoma, with a new focus on those that occur outside of protein-coding regions. His team looks for regulatory mutations in the non-coding space that may alter the expression of oncogenes. His laboratory has implemented novel assays for the sensitive detection and genetic characterization of circulating tumour DNA. These “liquid biopsy” approaches continue to be developed as non-invasive methods for monitoring treatment response and resistance.

At the upcoming GSC 20th Anniversary Symposium, Dr. Morin will present the groundbreaking findings that have brought the field of cancer genomics to where it is today, and will highlight where we need to focus moving forward.

Dr. Morin was part of a cohort of trainees who went on to pursue genome sciences and now run their own laboratories, many of whom will as speakers at the symposium. He is looking forward to learning about the advances they are making to the field of genomics.

“I know it is going to be impressive because we were trained in an excellent environment. Many people have gone on to do great things.”  

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