RESEARCH SUMMARY

" My research focuses on understanding the dynamic molecular changes that occur during tumour progression and metastasis through liquid biopsy. Our ability to study tumour biology and uncover new approaches to prevent and treat cancer is limited because it relies on tissue from a biopsy, which carries several issues: inadequate sampling, rare but serious complications, and, importantly, the limitation of having one static picture of the tumour – thereby neglecting the dynamics of tumour evolution. To overcome these issues, my lab tracks tumour evolution through a liquid biopsy, a minimally invasive approach to monitor disease progression, recurrence and treatment response using a blood sample. Detection of circulating tumour cells, DNA and extracellular vesicles can contribute to early diagnosis and personalized management. Liquid biopsy can inform on the changing mutational status of the disease and help to guide therapy. My lab works towards identifying specific initiating and metastasis-promoting mutations that can track disease through ctDNA as a biomarker. We also study the contribution of EVs to cancer progression, and synthesize lipid nanoparticles to study EV behaviour and as a drug delivery system for anti-cancer therapy. "  (Summary taken from https://rimuhc.ca/-/julia-burnier)

PUBLICATIONS SINCE 2019

OUR TEAM

Julia Valdemarin Burnier, PhD

Principle Investigator

Dr. Burnier pursued a PhD in molecular and cell biology at McGill University (Experimental Medicine). The focus of her PhD was the molecular mechanisms underlying invasion and metastasis. Dr. Burnier went on to pursue related post-doctoral training at McGill and at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (Barcelona, Spain). Most recently, she focused on cancer genomics in clinical trials at the Princess Margaret Hospital (Toronto).

In 2018, Dr. Burnier began an independent research program within the Cancer Research Program (CRP) of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) to uncover the role and mechanisms of tumor-derived (circulating) molecules in tumor progression and metastasis. Our goal is to develop novel accurate and sensitive biomarkers and identify new targeted therapeutic strategies. Using liquid biopsy samples and cell models, we investigate the role of circulating nucleic acids and tumour-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs) in mediating tumour metastasis via communication with and reprograming of the tumor microenvironment.

Monyse de Nobrega, MSc, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Monyse is a Biomedical Scientist with a Master’s and Ph.D in Genetics and Molecular Biology from the State University of Londrina, Brazil. During her graduate training, she focused on studying cell-free and extracellular vesicles microRNAs using liquid biopsy to identify biomarkers for early diagnosis and prognosis in prostate cancer, as well as the behavior of miRNAs in cell models (2D, 3D and organoids). Currently, she is a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Julia Burnier's laboratory, evaluating circulating tumor DNA using liquid biopsy from colorectal cancer patients to assess cancer progression and response to treatment.

Alberto Castillo, MD, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow

Alberto is an MD with a specialty in Clinical Pathology who obtained his Ph.D in Clinical Sciences at the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Monterrey with a focus in the area of regenerative medicine. In 2024 he joins the laboratory of Dr. Julia Burnier as a postdoctoral fellow focusing on the determination of ctDNA in patients with thyroid cancer.

Thupten Tsering, MSc

PhD Student

Thupten graduated from McGill University in 2018 with a master of science in Biochemistry. He joined as a research assistant in Dr. Julia Burnier’s in October 2018. His research focuses on extracellular vesicles carrying oncogenes serve as a biomarker in cancer patients bio fluids. He is also interested in the molecular pathways of nucleic acid emission from cancer cells. Outside the lab, he likes hiking, travelling and playing soccer.

Tadhg Ferrier, MSc

PhD Student

Tadhg obtained her B.Sc from McGill with a major in Pharmacology with a minor in Psychology. During her undergraduate degree, she did research at the MUHC-McGill Ocular Pathology and Translational Research Laboratory, working on metastasis markers in uveal melanoma, especially relating to the importance of BAP1 protein expression on the prognosis of patients. Following this work, she joined Dr. Julia Burnier’s laboratory, looking at Methylation Signatures in Uveal Melanoma using the TCGA database. Tadhg’s thesis involves methylation analysis and using liquid biopsy techniques for cancer detection and prognostication, specifically working on the detection of circulating tumor DNA in head and neck cancer and detecting methylation patterns in circulating tumor DNA.

Yunxi Chen

PhD Student

Yunxi graduated from McGill University with a B.Sc. degree in Honours Computer Science and Biology. She joined Dr. Julia Burnier’s lab as a volunteer in her third year of undergrad, participated in analyzing the proteomics of extracellular vesicles of uveal melanoma and then started investigating cancer-stem cells in melanoma. she started as a MSc student in the lab from September 2020 and fast-tracked to PhD student. Her project mainly focuses on studying the effect of blue light on the tumorigenesis of uveal melanoma.

Alexandra Bartolomucci

PhD Student

Alexandra is a first year M.Sc. Student in Dr. Julia Burnier’s lab. She graduated from McGill University with a B.Sc. in Biochemistry in 2020. During her degree, she completed a research project on extracellular vesicles and their potential use as progression markers in esophageal cancer. After graduating, she worked for a year at a cancer research lab at the Montreal General Hospital, where she gained experience with patient-derived organoids. Alexandra is excited to begin her research project in Dr. Julia Burnier’s liquid biopsy lab which will incorporate circulating tumour DNA, extracellular vesicles, and organoids.

Amélie Nadeau

MSc Student

Amelie has been helping the lab since July 2020 as a research trainee while she’s eager to start her second year of B.Sc in Biology - Physiology at Université de Montréal in the fall. She believes working on liquid biopsy research projects at Dr. Julia Burnier’s lab is a great opportunity to learn and assist on further developing our understanding and prediction of disease.

Erica Mandato

MSc Student

Erica received her Graduate Diploma in Oncology from the Gerald Bronfman Department at McGill University. She also completed her BSc at McGill, majoring in Honours Microbiology and Immunology. Since 2021, Erica has worked with co-supervisors Drs. Julia Burnier and Annie Leung on an HPV cervical cancer project to develop a minimally invasive liquid biopsy-based test that could predict patients' cancer risk and treatment response based on their levels of HPV-related circulating tumour (ct)DNA in blood, urine, vaginal swabs, and cervical cytology. Erica leads patient recruitment, the external validation of established ctDNA detection methods, and is exploring protein biomarkers, in addition to ctDNA, to assess their potential in cervical cancer screening and monitoring.

Tad Wu

MSc Student

My name is Tad Wu and I am a newly admitted master's student in the Department of Pathology under the supervision of Dr. Julia Burnier. I earned my bachelor's in Honours Computer Science and Biology. During my undergrad, I was fortunate to be given the opportunity to conduct an honour's project under the supervision of Dr. Maria Vera Ugalde, where I used a computational pipeline to analyze the distribution and colocalization of heat shock protein mRNAs in neurons of ALS patients to determine if ALS would affect the heat shock response. After taking a class on human genetics, I became particularly interested in cancer. My project will aim to mimic cancer-derived extracellular vesicles (EVs) using lipid-based nanoparticles in terms of cellular uptake and downstream effects.

LAB NEWS












Past Members

Emma Youhnovska

Medical Student (2019-2023)

Emma started at the lab in August 2019, working as a research volunteer while in Cegep. She will be starting Medical school at McGill in the fall 2020. Currently, she is helping out with a research project focused on liquid biopsies, but she hopes to eventually get a personal research project.

Qianqian (Chelsea) Zhou

Medical Student (2021-2023)

Qianqian (Chelsea) Zhou is a first year medical student at l’Université de Montréal and has an interest in the field of oncology. She joined the lab in July 2021 as a research volunteer. She is currently participating in a research project focusing on the effect of blue light on the tumorigenesis of uveal melanoma.

Jialun (Lily) Li

Undergrad Student (2022-2023)

Lily is a 3rd year undergraduate student pursuing a degree in Neuroscience at McGill University and has an interest in cancer. She joined the lab in September 2022. She is working on some cell culture techniques, and in the future, she is hoping to participate in projects about uveal melanoma and extracellular vesicles.

Rubén Rodrigo López Salazar, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow (2020-2023)

Ruben graduated from the Monterrey Institute of Technology and Higher Education, where he completed a B. Eng. in Mechatronics and M.Sc. in Electronics. During his studies, he worked on several projects focused on biomedical and sustainable engineering. Upon completing his degrees, he worked in an engineering consulting firm for three years.

In 2016, he was awarded a full CONACyT-ETS scholarship for PhD graduate studies at École de technologie supérieure (ÉTS). During his PhD, he studied the production of next-generation nanomedicines on an industrial scale based on liposomes. Ruben graduated from ÉTS in 2020. The same year, he joined as a postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Julia Burnier’s laboratory. His research focuses on extracellular vesicles and their role in cancer metastasis. He is also interested in the production of EV-like liposomes using microfluidics to study cell-to-cell communication. The New Frontiers in Research grant funds this work. In his free time, Ruben likes practicing karate shotokan, learning photography, recreative biking, and traveling.

Xin (Daniel) Su, MD, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellow (2023)

Daniel obtained his MD degree from Tongji University, where he received comprehensive training of medical knowledge and practice. During medical school, he was also actively engaged in basic and translational biomedical research including a fellowship at Harvard Medical School. After graduation, he practiced briefly as resident physician/gastroenterologist.

In 2018, he came to Canada for a PhD training at McGill University, his project was about the regulation of extracellular vesicles (EVs) and neutrophils in cancer progression and lymph node metastasis. During this training, he developed expertise in EV, innate immunity, gastroesophageal cancer, and the field tumour microenvironment. He has presented at multiple conferences and published multiple peer-reviewed articles. In 2022, he joined Dr. Julia Burnier’s lab as a postdoctoral fellow. He is currently working on the regulation of EVs in chemoresistance and developing new therapeutic tools using the bioengineering platforms in the lab.

Chaymaa Zouggari Ben El Khyat, MSc

MSc Student (2020-2022)

Chaymaa is a first-year master’s student at l’École de Technologie Supérieure (ÉTS) and she is doing her masters’ thesis under Dr Julia Burnier’s (RI-MUHC), Dr Rubén Lopez’s (RI-MUHC) and Dr. Vahé Nerguizian’s (ÉTS) supervision. She is currently working on the development of liposomes that mimic the naturally produced extracellular vesicles produced by different types of cancer cells. Chaymaa has a bachelor’s in Biomedical Engineering from Universidad Carlos III de Madrid (she graduated in 2019) and is eager to continue working in the field of nanotechnology applied to cancer research.

Prisca Bustamante, PhD

PhD Student (2018-2022)

Upon Prisca completed her master’s degree in experimental biology and working for two years in the pharmaceutical industry in Mexico City, she joined Dr. Julia Burnier’s Laboratory as a Ph.D. student in summer 2018. She is a scholarship recipient for Ph.D. studies by The National Council of Science and Technology of Mexico. She is currently working on liquid biopsy to predict tumor progression and metastasis in melanoma.

Caroline Webster

Undergrad Student (Volunteer 2021)

Caroline is a third year B.Sc student, in Microbiology and Immunology, at McGill University. She joined the lab in August 2021 as a research volunteer and is currently completing a 396 research project focused on detecting the presence of circulating tumour DNA in head and neck cancer patients.

Alexander Laskaris, MSc

MSc Student (2019-2021)

Alexander graduated from McGill University with a B.Sc. in Honours Anatomy and Cell biology. He completed an honours research project in Dr. Peter Metrakos’ laboratory, where he worked on determining the immunological landscape of liver metastases. From there he joined Dr. Julia Burnier’s laboratory to pursue a M.Sc. in pathology. His thesis focuses on characterizing the proteomic profile of extracellular vesicles obtained from malignant melanoma patient liquid biopsies. This work, funded by the FRQS award, seeks to optimize a minimally invasive method for earlier detection of metastasis through the identification of EV biomarkers.

Charles Champagne

Summer Intern (2021 Summer)

Charles is a fourth year mechanical engineering student completing his biomedical concentration at ÉTS. He had the opportunity to join Dre Burnier laboratory as an engineering intern for the 2021 summer. He is fascinated by the fields of healthcare and medical technologies, and he wants to be part of the solutions.

Eva Jin, MSc

MSc Student (2018-2020)

Eva obtained B.Sc. from McGill, majored in Anatomy and Cell Biology. She joined Dr. Julia Burnier’s lab for completion of M.Sc. in Pathology. She worked on project characterizing GNAQ mutant melanocytes, and also investigating the effect of blue light exposure.

Rafaella Andujar

Medical Student (2019 Summer Student)

Rafaella is a medical student in Brazil who completed an observership in Dr Julia Burnier's lab. She obtained the opportunity by Dr. Julia, to come back as a researcher trainee the following year. Her research focuses on evaluating aqueous humor as a potential source of tumor derived material, that can be used for the diagnosis and monitoring of uveal melanoma.

CONTACT

Interested in joining our team?

For future position, please contact julia.burnier@mcgill.ca


Dr. Julia Burnier's Laboratory address:

RI-MUHC Glen site

1001 Boul. Décarie. E01.2123

Montreal QC H4A 3J1