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2015 Research Grant Recipient:
Dr. Phillip Karpowicz

Posted on: January 7th, 2016
Dr. Phillip KarpowiczDr. Phillip Karpowicz
Biological Sciences, University of Windsor

The timing of cancer: an investigation of the circadian clock and photoperiod on tumorigenesis in the APCmin mouse


Our body can tell time of day: light, which is detected by our eyes, sends a signal to our brain and then throughout our body. This system of body timing by light is called the circadian clock, and it controls our sleep and wakefulness, and the 24 hour activity of many organs and tissues. Circadian clocks exist in all cells in our body, but the consequences of changing our waking versus sleeping times are only starting to be appreciated.

Our research team is a new laboratory at the University of Windsor, where we specialize in the study of stem cells and regeneration. We have done experiments which show that intestinal healing occurs with a day/night rhythm under the control of the circadian clock. This work is important in understanding gastrointestinal diseases, such as inflammatory bowel diseases, and the side effects of chemo and radiation therapies which damage the digestive system.

We propose a pilot study that will test how colorectal cancer is affected by day/night cycles. Our research project will use a mouse model to test if interrupting the natural light/dark cycle is a risk factor in colorectal cancer. Our work will find out whether day/night cycles elevate colorectal cancer risk, and will find out if maintaining normal sleep cycles can help prevent it. Importantly, our long-term studies into the 24-hour timing of cancer processes will help predict the optimal times of chemo and radiation therapies, not only for colorectal cancer but for many different cancers.


Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in Canada, and has a higher incidence in the Windsor-Essex region than the Ontario average. The Windsor-Essex region has a history of industry which involves shift-work. Shift-workers, whose waking/sleeping cycles are artificially changed, are prone to many gastrointestinal diseases, including colorectal cancer. Translating this research in the future may be as simple as avoiding frequent sleep interruptions, for people who are susceptible to colorectal cancer. This makes our proposal particularly relevant for cancer prevention, and for the Seeds4Hope program.

Our project will also investigate how colorectal cancer relates to the circadian clock. This will be useful in developing new therapies to treat colorectal cancer, and in changing the timing of existing therapies to avoid unnecessary damage. This is not only relevant to colorectal cancer, but to the treatment of other cancers as well. For instance, mucositis and radiation syndrome are diseases that are caused by the side effects of either radiation or chemo therapies that are often used to treat cancers. Timing these same therapies according to circadian rhythms might help reduce these side effects. Thus our proposal will also help develop therapies to heal the damaged tissues of cancer patients. This work will also shed light on other gastrointestinal illnesses such as Crohn’s Disease and Ulcerative Colitis.

bm-icon-48Click here for a PDF version of Dr. Phillip Karpowicz’s Seeds4Hope Research Grant Summary

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