Quebec Premier François Legault, announced the appointment of 43 (35 from 2020) individuals to the National Order of Quebec today, including Dr. Morag Park, Director of McGill University’s Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Centre (GCRC) who was appointed Chevalière. Dr. Park was nominated by Maryse Lassonde, President of the Quebec Superior Council of Education with the support of the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation (QBCF), with the additional support of McGill’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences as well as the GCRC.
“McGill University is proud that the Government of Quebec has chosen to honour Dr. Morag Park for her outstanding contributions in cancer research,” said Martha Crago, Vice-Principal, Research and Innovation. “Her work has improved our understanding of cancer and has made a mark on Quebec’s culture of research excellence. I extend my heartfelt congratulations to Dr. Park on behalf of McGill’s research community.”
“It is a great honour to be appointed to the Order of Quebec. I am grateful for my incredible colleagues and trainees in the health and research community who have supported me throughout the years and whose collaborations have enabled the progress we’ve made to date. However, there remains a long road ahead in the fight against cancer, and support for this research is critical, perhaps even more so as we exit the COVID-19 pandemic, where, like so many fields, cancer care and research has been impacted,” said Dr. Morag Park on receiving her appointment.
“From the very beginning of her career as a researcher, the Foundation believed in Dr. Morag Park’s research projects by awarding her very first research grant in breast cancer. She is a pioneer with her work on breast cancer in Quebec. We are proud to support her since her beginnings and the recognition she receives from the Order of Quebec,” said Karine-Iseult Ippersiel, President and CEO of the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation.
A world-class cancer researcher bridging the laboratory and clinic
A trailblazer, builder and innovator during a career spanning over thirty years, Dr. Park has made contributions to a wide spectrum of cancer research, from the molecular level to the complex cellular interactions within tissues that dictate the biology of human cancers.
Her trajectory began with her identification and characterization of a key oncogene, the receptor tyrosine kinase (RTK) MET, as a post-doctoral fellow. On this foundation, Dr. Park built a research program of sustained excellence, developing elegant molecular and cell biology approaches to systematically discover key signaling proteins and pathways dictating the functional output of MET and other RTKs which are now key targets in precision medicine for many cancers. Her innovative approach, which set an example followed by many others in the field, identified critical molecular mechanisms of aberrant RTK activation that drive many prevalent cancers. These discoveries have significantly increased our understanding of many crucial processes underlying cancer development, including cell growth and proliferation, survival, motility and invasion and key cell fate decisions.
For the past 20 years, Dr. Park has also built world-leading translational research programs, including innovative pre-clinical models and comprehensive patient sample and data repositories, particularly for breast cancer. These are built on the premise of multidisciplinary collaborations between surgeons, oncologists, pathologists, and informaticians, as well as basic and translational researchers, through her role as Co-Principal Investigator of a Quebec-wide cancer biobanking network of clinicians and researchers. Her work led to a new understanding of the role of non-tumor cells, referred to as the “tumor microenvironment” in breast cancer, a concept that is now accepted for many cancers. More recently, “living biobanks” of live cells and tissues harvested during surgeries, developed under Dr. Park’s leadership, have allowed the development of patient derived models of breast and other cancers to understand why some patients do not respond to therapy and to develop new therapeutic strategies.
Dr. Park’s leadership and expertise in bridging the laboratory and clinic have allowed her to assume leading roles in consortia dedicated to improving outcomes for cancer patients by expanding the reach of precision medicine. These include Québec Cancer Consortium (QCC), uniting six leading Montreal hospitals, cancer research centres, non-profit and pharmaceutical industry partners, and the Quebec node of the Terry Fox Research Institute’s Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network (MoHCCN).
A legacy of recognition
Dr. Park has received many prizes and honours including the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) Robert L. Noble Prize (2017), the Canadian Society for Molecular Biosciences (CSMB) Arthur Wynne Gold Medal Award (2016), and the Grand Prix Scientifique of the Quebec Breast Cancer Foundation (2019). A fellow of the Royal Society of Canada (2007) and of the Canadian Academy of Health Sciences (2017), she was elected Chair of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Tumor Microenvironment Network (2015-2017). She has been recognized consistently through academic appointments of the highest level, including a Distinguished James McGill Professorship (2020-present) and the Diane and Sal Guerrera Chair in Molecular Genetics (2003-present). Nationally, as the Scientific Director of CIHR’s Institute of Cancer Research (2008-13), Dr. Park spearheaded key initiatives on personalized medicine, childhood cancers initiation and progression, the role of lifestyle and the environment. She also co-chaired the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance (CCRA), where she led the development of the first Pan-Canadian Cancer Research Strategic Plan. For these and her other efforts she received the CCRA Award for Exceptional Leadership in Cancer Research in 2015.
Congratulations Dr. Park!