Lab Canada

$14.8M funding for cancer research across Canada in new partnership

Toronto, ON – On the 30th anniversary of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope, the Terry Fox Foundation (TFF) has announced $14.8 million in funding for cancer research. The TFF funding is being allocated to institutions and researchers in Ontario ($9.7 million), Quebec ($2 million) and British Columbia ($3.1 million) and involves a new partnership with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR).

Four major research programs are being funded through the new partnership, which is called the Terry Fox New Frontiers Program Project Grants Competition at CIHR.

“The Terry Fox Foundation is pleased to join with CIHR in announcing these substantial New Frontiers Program Project Grants which support novel, innovative and leading-edge discovery research by outstanding scientists working in teams across the country,” said Dr Victor Ling, president and scientific director of The Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI), which manages TFF’s research investment. “Investing in excellent, peer-reviewed research has been a hallmark of TFF for three decades. Our new partnership with CIHR will ensure that TFF-funded research continues to be the best. We believe we are stronger when we work together – as partners and as scientists – and that this collaboration will help us to meet the challenges in finding cures for cancer.”

The Terry Fox Foundation will be investing approximately $20 million in 2010-2011 for cure-oriented biomedical discovery research and $10 million for translational research through The Terry Fox Research Institute. The funds are raised by Canadians who participate each year in Terry Fox Runs and the National School Run Day across the country, in honour of Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope.

Following is a summary of the projects being funded:

1) Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre (Ultrasound for Cancer Therapy): Principal investigator Dr Gregory Czarnota and team will receive $2,704,744 over three years for the Ultrasound for Cancer Therapy Project.

Ultrasound is non-invasive (no contrast dye needed for the patient), inexpensive and portable. Dr Czarnota’s team aims to change the face of conventional ultrasound to be used as functional imaging. Their work primarily involves developing the use of novel ultrasound methods to better and faster assess cancer therapies through more metabolic monitoring of tumour response and the detection of tumour cell death or apoptosis. In clinical trials being conducted in collaboration with medical oncologists, this research is being translated into earlier and faster tracking of treatment effectiveness in hours versus days, and will result in better tailored treatment for the patient as less effective therapies can more rapidly be switched to more efficacious ones. The team is also developing novel ultrasound-based and microbubble therapy methods to enhance the effects of radiation treatment. Microbubbles are used to disrupt the vasculature of endothelial cells in tumours, and the researches have shown that radiation sensitivity can be enhanced by more than ten-fold.

2) Mount Sinai Hospital (CIHR Team in Genetic Analysis of Signaling Pathways for Vascular Development and Tumorigenesis): Principal investigator Dr Andras Nagy and team will receive $6,988,175 over five years to study the processes behind the occurrence and spread of cancer as well as how to provide better treatments for cancer while reducing negative side effects.

Some of the limitations of current cancer medications, including antiangiogenic therapies, lie in their non-specific actions on healthy cells as well as tumour vasculature. These actions may lead to side effects including kidney damage, hypertension, ulcers, severe headaches and stroke. Researchers at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital are identifying new methods to develop anti-cancer drugs that selectively suppress blood vessel formation in cancerous tissues, without damaging health tissues.

For example, research in Dr Sue Quaggin’s lab will focus on finding ways to protect the kidney and other organs from damage during antiangiogenic therapy, while Dr Andras Nagy and his team will further improve these therapies by studying the effects they have not only on tumours, but also in the immune system.

In order to form a well-functioning organ, cells communicate through the release of molecules and by direct physical contact. Dr Tony Pawson will investigate how this interaction takes place, and how disruptions can cause cancer.

Dr Jeff Wrana and his team have developed a system to measure the movement of cancer cells, and they will implement this strategy to find chemicals that can be used for future cancer therapies.

Two other members of the team are top researchers at The Hospital for Sick Children and the University of Manitoba. For example, Dr Janet Rossant is focusing on the use of stem cells to increase the quality of blood vessels, so that the delivery of chemotherapy can be enhanced. Her team will also develop robust cell-based screening tools to test new antiangiogenic therapies. Dr Hao Ding in Winnipeg will investigate how the PDGF gene, which plays an important role in vessel formation, might be involved in medulloblastomas-the most common type of brain tumour in children.

3) Sainte-Justine University Hospital Center, Montreal (Genomic Determinants of Childhood Leukemia): Principal investigator Dr Daniel Sinnett and his team will receive $2,048,321 over three years to investigate Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia (ALL), the most common cancer in children.

The multidisciplinary and inter-university research program, which will be under the leadership of a team of investigators from the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center, aims to study the genomic determinants of childhood leukemia. The grant of over $2 million, the first of its kind in the field of pediatric oncology, will make it possible to spearhead breakthroughs in the field of biomedical, clinical and translational research. These advances may then be used as a foundation for innovative cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment strategies.

According to Dr Daniel Sinnett, head of the viral and immune disorders and cancers research axis at the CHU Sainte-Justine and professor of pediatrics and biochemistry at the University of Montreal, “Support from the Terry Fox Foundation will enable our inter-institutional research team to take advantage of the rapid development of new genomic tools to improve our understanding of the causes of childhood leukemia. This unique research program will lead to the development of even more powerful clinical tools in order to improve the diagnosis and treatment of the disease.”

4) University of British Columbia, Vancouver (CIHR Team in the Genomics of Forme Fruste Tumours: New Vistas in Cancer Biology and Management): Principal investigator Dr David Huntsman and his team will receive $3,126,365 over three years to study the genetic aspects of rare cancers with the goal of identifying the defects and mutations responsible for these tumours. The team will study 12 forme fruste tumours using DNA sequencing technology which will yield new knowledge to provide more effective diagnostics and treatments for these diseases as well as cancer in general.

Cancer is a complex and challenging disease to study, partly because many common cancers are not defined by a single driving event but a constellation of many different genetic changes. The situation is very different in many rarer tumours, which often share a single, identical defect that translates into uniform clinical presentation and prognosis. Such cancers are called forme fruste tumours. Identification of the defects responsible for forme fruste tumours is beneficial for affected patients and can also led to insights into basic biology and advance cancer research overall.

The CIHR team in the genomics of forme fruste tumours, led by University of British Columbia researcher Dr David Huntsman and consists of scientists from UBC, Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute and the Michael
Smith Genome Sciences Centre at BC Cancer Agency will study a series of 12 forme fruste tumours that lack effective diagnostics and treatments.