In December 2014 it was announced that Brenda Gallie, MD, world-renowned ophthalmologist, would receive the distinction of Member of the Order of Canada. The Order of Canada, one of our country’s highest civilian honours, recognizes outstanding achievement, dedication to the community and service to the nation. Dr Gallie was recognized for her contributions to the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of retinoblastoma, a childhood eye cancer.
Dr Gallie received a Banting Research Foundation grant in 1983, shortly after she was appointed assistant professor of ophthalmology at the University of Toronto. She says, “the Banting Research Foundation grant (The mutations of retinoblastoma) set the stage for my team to first characterize the major mechanism by which tumor suppressor genes lose their ability to suppress cancer. The group at Harvard cloned in 1986 the retinoblastoma gene (RB1), and my team set out to apply that knowledge to patients. We developed the highest sensitivity test to find each family’s unique mutation and set up a genetic diagnostic company to provide the service to children across Canada and internationally. That has now grown into Impact Genetics, expanding the reach of our expertise around the world, including a novel Chinese collaboration that reaches many Chinese families.
“My team also mapped the subsequent genomic changes leading to retinoblastoma. We showed that “retinoma” is a premalignant benign tumor that has lost both copies of RB1, and we characterized retinoblastoma-specific changes in 5 other genes that drive retinoma to cancer. In 2013, the scientists of Impact Genetics led in the discovery of a previously unrecognized form of retinoblastoma with normal RB1 genes, instead driven to an aggressive cancer by high-level amplification of an oncogene. This discovery is highly relevant to the very young children with this dangerous but non-hereditary cancer. The original Banting Research Foundation grant, The mutations of retinoblastoma, empowered a wonderful time for students, colleagues, and me, and the families around the world affected by retinoblastoma. Thank you.”
Dr Gallie’s grandfather, William E Gallie, MD, eminent surgeon and medical educator, was one of the founding trustees of the Banting Research Foundation in 1925.