The Charbonneau Cancer Institute Welcomes Dr. Pierre Billon!

Dr. Pierre Billon joined the University of Calgary in November 2020 as an assistant professor with the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and a member of the Robson DNA Science Centre. Learn more about what it was like for him to move to Calgary during a pandemic and what his lab, the Genome Stability and Editing Laboratory, will focus on in the years ahead.

The Charbonneau Cancer Institute Welcomes Dr. Pierre Billon!

Welcome Dr. Pierre Billon!

Article written by Dr. Pierre Billon:

I started the Genome Stability and Editing Laboratory in November 2020 in the Robson DNA Science Centre at the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute. Moving to Calgary to establish my lab was full of uncertainties due to the fast-changing situation and unprecedented challenges associated with the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic. Nevertheless, I always embrace obstacles and challenges because they force us to be innovative and creative. Now settled in Calgary, I am excited to start discovering the city and its surroundings, and to develop my independent scientific career.

My laboratory studies the mechanisms of DNA repair and genome editing and their interplay. Genome editing technologies are site-specific DNA damaging agents that rely on DNA repair to generate desired edits. Genome editing has already significantly impacted our health systems and society with the recent cure of genetic diseases in humans, it also facilitates the engineering of immune cells for the treatment of advanced refractory cancers and expedites the detection of infectious diseases. With the development of modern genome editing technologies, we entered the second era of precision genome editing which enables an unprecedented interrogation of the functional human genome with single base resolution. We are utilizing a variety of cutting-edge CRISPR-based genome editing technologies to interrogate the cellular mechanisms that protect our genome and how it impacts human cancers. Our priority is to ultimately ameliorate the life of patients suffering from genetic diseases and cancers.

While planning my lab and my research program in the past years, I would have not imagined doing it in this particular context. But despite the current situation, I feel lucky that I already had the opportunity to hire many talented scientists to join my lab. I appreciate the courage and determination it takes to join a recently established lab in this uncertain global situation. I am very optimistic by the months to come with many exciting projects to accomplish and new technologies to implement.

In the actual context, it could also be easy to feel isolated, but I am very grateful to my colleagues who help me navigate the administrative responsibilities, support with grant proposals and numerous discussions for collaborations. Even students/postdocs from other labs were eager to help us for the recruitment of a promising Postdoctoral Associate. After just three months here, and despite this unique context, I feel that the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute is a fantastic place to start an independent career and that the scientific environment is exceptionally strong. When the time comes back to normal, I look forward to grabbing a coffee and talking with colleagues, students and postdocs for in-person scientific discussions.