Lab Canada

Nearly $12M funding launches brain cancer research team

Toronto, ON – A team of top Canadian scientists in stem cell research is receiving $11.7 million over four years from Stand Up To Cancer Canada (SU2C), Genome Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium, and Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.


Dr. Peter Dirks, a neurosurgeon at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital who first identified cancer stem cells in brain tumours, leads the team while Dr. Sam Weiss, director of the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute is co-leader. A member of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Science Advisory Council, Dr. Weiss discovered adult neural stem cells.


“Brain tumours in children and adults contain a small number of cells called stem cells that resist treatment and continually regenerate, driving tumour growth and recurrence after initial responses to treatment,” said Dr. Dirks. “Our team will conduct multiple analyses of brain cancer stem cells, profiling their biological makeup to identify drugs that are likely to block the uncontrolled growth of the tumours, and carry out clinical trials across Canada to find the safest and most effective drugs to treat these cancers.”


Team members include:


– Dr. Cheryl H. Arrowsmith, the University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto (structural and chemical biology);

– Dr. Gary D. Bader, University of Toronto;

– Dr. Amy A. Caudy, University of Toronto;

– Dr. Nada Jabado, McGill University;

– Dr. Mathieu Lupien, UHN;

– Dr. Marco A. Marra, British Columbia Cancer Agency Branch in Vancouver;

– Dr. Trevor Pugh, UHN;

– Dr. Michael Salter, The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute; and

– Dr. Michael D. Tyers, University of Montreal.


“Brain tumours are not as common as many other forms of cancer, but they are devastating, especially when they strike the very young,” said Dr. Phillip A. Sharp, a Nobel laureate and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Dr Sharp, who co-chairs the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee, said the team “will bring new insights to brain cancer research, which has been an underfunded area.”


“Stem cells and cancer stem cells were discovered in Canada,” said Alan Bernstein, president & CEO of CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Advanced Research), who also chairs the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Board of Directors. “By bringing together a top-flight team of scientists and clinicians from across Canada and applying what we have learned about brain cancer and cancer stem cells, our hope is that novel treatments will be developed.”


Reported by Joe Sornberger, Canadian Stem Cell Foundation