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Dr. Rod Bremner

Research Institute
Mount Sinai Hospital
Joseph & Wolf Lebovic Health Complex
600 University Avenue
Toronto, Ontario
M5G 1X5

Tel.: 416-586-4800 ext.1525

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Dr. Rod Bremner


Dr. Bremner is interested in how cancer begins and how, once established, it exploits epigenetic mechanisms to escape detection and elimination by the immune system. By understanding these processes, the lab’s goal is to develop strategies to prevent and treat cancer.

To study the early stages of cancer, Dr. Bremner’s lab developed multiple models of the childhood eye cancer, retinoblastoma. This cancer is caused by mutations that inactivate the RB1 gene. Babies born with one defective RB1 gene have a 100% chance of developing multiple tumours in both eyes. This can be treated, but current therapies often result in loss of the eye or retinal function (i.e. sight). Moreover, survivors are prone to many other cancers later in life. 

Using a combination of genetics, genomics, biochemistry and pharmacology, Dr. Bremner’s group has uncovered a network of factors that drive cancer in the RB1-deficient retina. RB1 is defective in many other human cancers, so these factors are likely to be critical in those contexts too. His group is currently developing drug-based strategies to prevent retinoblastoma using eye drops designed to inhibit pro-cancer factors. These approaches may also be useful to prevent other cancers later in life. His group is testing these possibilities using animal models that mimic the genetic defects in RB1-deficient children. 

To understand how cancer cells evade the immune system, Dr. Bremner focusses on the action of interferon-gamma (IFNg), an anti-cancer protein generated by immune cells. His group discovered that the epigenetic regulator BRG1 is critical to ensure cells respond to IFNg.  In the presence of BRG1, IFNg induces multiple genes that render cells visible to the immune system. However, in the absence of BRG1, inhibitory proteins repress genes that are normally induced by IFNg. His group is using genomics strategies to identify these inhibitory proteins, defining strategies to block their action, and thus re-sensitizing cancer cells to IFNg.


At a Glance

Studies the molecular networks that drive normal cells to become cancerous

Developed genetic models that mimic the childhood eye cancer retinoblastoma

Currently developing preventive pharmaceutical strategies to block cancer development in highly susceptible families

Discovered epigenetic mechanisms whereby cancer cells evade the immune system 

Major Research Activities

The Bremner lab focuses on families with RB1 gene defects to deduce critical events that drive the earliest stages of cancer. 

Before a cell becomes fully cancerous it first becomes “tumour-prone”. Understanding the re-wiring of events that create this dangerous but non-lethal state generates opportunities to intervene and prevent cancer progression. Prevention is especially important in families with a high propensity to develop cancer.

Once tumours form, they must develop mechanisms to evade immune detection. By understanding these mechanisms the lab aims to develop strategies that will re-sensitize cancer cells to the immune system.