Lab Canada

$450,000 supports genetic research into breast cancer

Toronto, ON – A new program to fund studies into cancer prevention through genetics research has been launched by the Canadian Cancer Society and the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation and has named its first two recipients. Two researchers are each receiving $225,000 in funding through the new Capacity Development Awards in Prevention Research.

One of the award recipients is Dr Mohammad Akbari, a researcher at Women’s College Research Institute in Toronto, who is seeking genetic clues to develop tests for the early detection of breast and other hereditary cancers. The other recipient is Dr Caroline Diorio, who is examining the role diet plays in breast cancer.

Hereditary cancers are estimated to account for up to 10% of all cancers, but existing genetic tests are able to detect only a fraction of those and are unable to detect any of the remaining 90% of sporadic cancers where, emerging research data indicate, genetic susceptibility plays an important role.

Dr Akbari aims to develop new tests for early detection and targeted treatment strategies and, most importantly, prevent the disease by identifying people at risk.

Currently, genetic testing is available to individuals in limited situations. For example, women who have a family history of breast and ovarian cancer can be tested for mutations in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Studies have shown that women with inherited BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutations have an up to 80% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime.

Dr Akbari is seeking to identify people with gene mutations linked to cancer in order to prevent the disease and to identify genetic risk factors soon after a cancer diagnosis. Using DNA samples from cancer patients, he is identifying genes linked to cancer risk, studying the feasibility of providing more genetic testing in clinics, and evaluating the success of treatments in patients with gene mutations.

“What I want to achieve with my research is to help identify as many possible carriers of cancer-causing gene mutations,” said Dr Akbari. “If we can identify the individuals who are at high risk for the disease, then we can take the preventive steps to reduce their risk.”

Dr Diorio, a scientist at Laval University, will examine how dietary omega-3 and body weight affect genes that are linked to an increased risk of breast cancer.

Recent studies have shown that omega-3 may have a protective effect against breast cancer. However, the benefit may be limited to women who are post-menopausal and obese. Dr Diorio wants to examine the connection between omega-3, obesity and breast cancer risk by assessing the association between omega-3 levels, obesity-related genetic markers and known risk factors, whether dietary omega-3 reduces breast cancer risk at the cellular and molecular levels, and whether the benefits of omega-3 are limited to post-menopausal obese women.

“I really wish to find something to help prevent the disease,” said Dr Diorio. “By gaining a better understanding of the connection between omega-3, obesity and breast cancer risk, we’ll be that much closer to being able to offer women a personalized prevention plan to reduce their risk of getting cancer.”

“Expanding Canada’s prevention research community is a priority for the Canadian Cancer Society, and we’re excited to be partnering with the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation on these new awards,” said Dr Siân Bevan, director of research, Canadian Cancer Society. “Through these types of investments, together with our partners, we strive to expand cancer prevention research activities in Canada with the goal of stopping cancer before it starts.”