Assistant Professor, Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine
: (613) 562-5800 ext. 8026
Overview of Interests
RNA is not just the intermediate between DNA and protein. RNA acts as a post-transcriptional regulator, enzyme and ligand. In these multiple roles, RNA has critical impacts in cancer, neuromuscular disease and viral infection. The broad theme of Dr. Gibbings’ research program is to understand how RNA is regulated in the context of a complex cellular environment. Often, for simplicity, we portray processes involving RNA as occurring in a cytoplasmic void governed by random encounters. The lab aims to understand the complex life of RNA in a dense cellular milieu interacting with vesicles, organelles and regulatory complexes in the context of disease.
Dr. Gibbings’ goal is to understand how RNA biology contributes to disease and to harness this to create new diagnostics and therapeutics. His lab has two major research axes: autophagy and extracellular vesicles called exosomes. The lab discovered a mechanism that traffics RNA and microRNA complexes into exosomes and, with a drug company, turned their discovery into a diagnostic test that is now used in the clinic. Strikingly, exosomes can deliver RNA between cells and even systemically across the blood-brain barrier. Dr. Gibbings’ long-term goal is to understand how exosomes package and traffic RNA throughout the body and apply this to revolutionize drug delivery by using exosomes to deliver large drugs, including siRNA. His lab’s second axis is RNA degradation by autophagy. Autophagy selectively degrades cytoplasmic substrates. Defective autophagy causes cancer and neurodegenerative disease, and this has sparked over 200 clinical trials of autophagy-activating drugs like mTOR inhibitors. However, which substrates contribute to disease by accumulating when autophagy is inhibited is often uncertain. Research has focused overwhelmingly on proteins and organelles targeted by autophagy, while neglecting RNA. Pioneering a focus on RNA and autophagy, Dr. Gibbings demonstrated two novel ways that autophagy regulates RNA and may contribute to cancer. His goal is to identify which RNAs are degraded by autophagy, the mechanisms and their contribution to diseases including cancers and neurodegenerative diseases.
Scientific Breakthroughs / Impact
Dr. Gibbings made groundbreaking discoveries on how microRNA complexes are transported extracellularly by exosomes. This discovery was patented and transformed into a clinically-used diagnostic test with Alnylam Pharmaceuticals, a major RNA silencing therapeutics company. Dr. Gibbings was also one of the first researchers to draw attention to the importance of RNA degradation by autophagy, a process with important consequences in cancer and many neurodegenerative diseases.
Dr. Gibbings currently holds grants from the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute and is a co-investigator on a project funded by the Canadian Institute of Health Research.