Programmed cell death occurs when cells respond to internal or external signals by initiating a process that results in their own death. While this process is necessary for the normal development of organisms, errors in the process can cause diseases such as cancer or neurodegenerative illnesses. Erin Pleasance is working to identify new genes that are expressed (activated) in programmed cell death and determine their role in diseases such as cancer. Using specialized equipment at the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre, she is studying the fruit fly to find genes whose role in cell death has not yet been defined. The fruit fly is a useful model because the proteins and mechanisms involved in its cell death correspond to those in mammals and can be used to help identify cancer-causing genes in humans. Learning how to inhibit genes that prevent cell death may lead to the development of new anti-cancer drugs that stop cell growth.