Robert Lafrenie, PhD

Scientist, Health Sciences North Research Institute
Associate Professor, Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Department of Biology, and Program in Biomolecular Sciences, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario

Dr. Lafrenie received a Bachelor's degree from the University of British Columbia in 1984. He then obtained his Master's and Doctorate degrees from McMaster University in 1989 and 1994 respectively. From 1993 until 1997 he was a visiting Fellow at the National Institute of Dental Health at the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. He has been a scientist at the Regional Cancer Centre in Sudbury since 1997.

Selected Affiliations

  • Academic editor for PLOS ONE 
  • Panel member and reviewer, Ontario Research Fund - Large Infrastructure Fund, Ontario Ministry of Research, Innovation & Science

Research Interests

Cell adhesion plays an important role in tissue structure and function. Most cells in our bodies adhere to their surrounding environment in order to survive and grow normally. The environment where the cell 'sticks' regulates many cellular processes including cell division and differentiation. One trait of cancers is that they do not show normal tissue organization and cell adhesion is not required for their survival. Tumours are relatively disorganized groups of cells. One of the projects carried out in Dr. Lafrenie's lab is to study how cell adhesion to different surroundings can regulate the activity of a cell and to determine how this knowledge can be translated to control cancer cell growth.

A goal of personalized medicine is to identify biomarkers that can be used identify treatments which give the best outcome for a specific patient. Genetic biomarkers can predict how a patient will respond to a specific cancer treatment. Each person has a unique DNA sequence and some of these differences (or sequence polymorphisms) can affect the activity of specific genes. These differences in gene activity can affect the stability of the chemotherapy or the ability to repair damage caused by the chemotherapy. Dr. Lafrenie, in collaboration with Dr Conlon, has shown that specific sequence polymorphisms in the DNA coding for various detoxification and DNA repair genes can predict how well a patient responds to a certain type of chemotherapy compared to patients with a different sequence.

Many cancer patients take natural products as part of their effort to fight cancer. Most patients undergoing treatment for cancer receive either chemotherapy or radiation therapy. While effective, these treatments also result in a host of side effects. Natural products can be used to minimize side effects or as an adjunct to standard therapy – although the impact of these products is often unknown. Dr. Lafrenie’s laboratory is investigating how compounds extracted from various plants used in traditional medicine or as functional foods, might benefit patients with cancer by being able to treat their disease without producing as many unwanted side effects. In addition, understanding how the natural products work informs how they might interact with standard anti-cancer therapies.

Electromagnetic fields are ubiquitous in the modern environment arising from all electrical devices, power lines, and cell phones. These magnetic fields have been shown to have effects on cell behaviour and have been associated with increased human cancer risk in some studies. However, Dr. Lafrenie, in collaboration with Dr C Buckner and Dr. M Persinger, have shown that exposure to a specific time-varying magnetic field can actually inhibit cancer growth and are trying to develop this pattern as an anticancer therapy.

Current Funding

  • Northern Cancer Foundation

Selected Publications

  • Buckner CA, Buckner AL, Koren SA, Persinger MA, Lafrenie RM. Inhibition of cancer cell growth by exposure to a specific time-varying electromagnetic field involved T-type calcium channels. PLOS One 14;10(4):e0124136, 2015. 
  • Dotta BT, Murugan NJ, Karbowski LM, Lafrenie RM, Persinger MA. Shifting wavelengths of ultraweak photon emissions from dying melanoma cells: their chemical enhancement and blocking are predicted by Cosic's theory of resonant recognition model for macromolecules. Naturwissenschaften.101:87-94, 2014
  • Murugan N, Karbowski L, Lafrenie RM, Persinger MA. Temporally-patterned magnetic fields induce complete fragmentation in planaria. PLOS One 19;8(4):e61714, 2013
  • Young, SD, Lafrenie RM, Clemons, MJ. Phase II trial of a metronomic schedule of docetaxel and capecitabine with concurrent Celecoxib in patients with prior anthracycline exposure for metastatic breast cancer. Current Oncology 19: e75-e83, 2012.
  • Dotta BT, Buckner CA, Cameron D, Lafrenie RM, Persinger MA. Photon emissions from cell cultures: Biochemical evidence for the plasma membrane as the primary source. General Physiology and Biophysics 30: 301-309, 2011.
  • Bewick MA, Lafrenie RM, Conlon MS. Nucleotide excision repair polymorphisms and survival outcome for patients with metastatic breast cancer. J Cancer Res Clin Oncol. 137: 543-550, 2011.
  • Hu JH, St-Pierre, LS, Buckner, CA, Lafrenie, RM, and Persinger, MA. Suppression of growth of injected melanoma cells by whole body exposure to specific spatial-temporal configurations of weak intensity magnetic fields. International Journal of Radiation Biology 86: 79-88, 2010.
  • Conlon, M, Johnson, KC, Bewick, MA, Lafrenie, R, Donner, A. Smoking (Active and Passive), N-Acetyltransferase 2, and risk of breast cancer. Cancer Epidemiol. 34:142-149, 2010.
  • Allen-Hall, L, Arnason, JT, Cano, P, Lafrenie, RM. Uncaria tomentosa acts as a potent TNF-alpha inhibitor through NF-kB. Journal of Ethnopharmacology 127: 685-693, 2010.
  • Bewick, MA, Conlon, MSC, and Lafrenie, RM. Prognostic influence of polymorphisms in XRCC1, XRCC3, and CCND1 in patients with metastatic breast cancer. J Clin Oncology 24: 5645-5651, 2006.