Research - Dr. Gerald Minuk
In the mid-1990s, Dr. Minuk determined that a healthy liver has a constant, negative electrical charge. He also found that when the liver is stimulated to grow, that charge changes from being negative to positive.
"This begged the obvious question,” said Dr. Minuk. "What about liver tissue that is always growing, such as liver cancers?”
"We were able to demonstrate, through a series of laboratory and clinical trials – funded in part by the HSC Foundation – that liver cancer cells are indeed positively charged. The most important experiments came in 2005 when we found that by switching the electrical charge on liver cancer cells from positive to negative, the appearance and behavior of the cells changed from being cancerous to non-cancerous.”
The reported differences in electrical charges were subsequently confirmed by researchers throughout the world involved in breast, stomach, pancreas and other types of cancer research.
This discovery has been instrumental in the development of a new approach to cancer treatment – instead of attempting to destroy cancer cells with chemo- or radiation-therapy (and in the process, destroying healthy, adjacent non-cancerous cells), clinicians are now considering converting cancerous tissue back to healthy functioning tissue by manipulating the electrical charge of the cancer cells.
Once again, Winnipeg is leading the world in this field by being the first centre to apply this approach to patients with liver cancer – a study currently underway, funded by the HSC Foundation.
And there’s more… Dr. Minuk and his exceptional research team are also searching for improvements in the prevention and treatment of liver diseases. One member of this team is Julia Rempel, Ph.D. Also originally from Manitoba, Dr. Rempel was recruited to the Section of Hepatology at HSC in 2002. Her overall research interest is investigating the relationship between the immune system and viral hepatitis.
In a stunning development, Dr. Rempel has documented the ability of immune cells from Aboriginal people to destroy viruses that infect the liver. As a result, Aboriginal people appear to be more effective in clearing viruses from the liver than Caucasian people. With this discovery in hand, the next step is to determine why and how to apply this advantage to all infected individuals.
This could be a huge development with international impact, considering that Hepatitis C has infected over 170 million people and Hepatitis B carriers number up to 350 million worldwide.