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$8.7M funding for cancer research in Ontario


Kingston, ON August 11, 2003 A total of C$8.7 million has been awarded in the second round of Cancer Research Fund grants to 19 top cancer researchers in Ontario. The announcement was made today by David Turnbull, associate minister of the Ontario Ministry of Enterprise, Opportunity and Innovation.

The grants are administered by the Ontario Cancer Research Network (OCRN), a non-profit organization established by a $100-million investment from the Ontario government. The OCRN provides grants to researchers conducting laboratory and clinical research and testing needed to transform promising discoveries into new treatments that can prevent, diagnose, control and ultimately cure various forms of cancer.

Grant recipients in this second round of Cancer Research Fund grants include 15 researchers from Toronto, two from Hamilton and two from Kingston. Some of the funded projects in this round include novel drug target identification, new treatment development, additional clinical testing and companion studies of clinical trials.

“These research grants are supporting innovative work by some of Ontario’s best cancer scientists,” says Dr Bob Phillips, president and CEO of the OCRN. “To improve care for cancer patients, we need to support research that is looking at new approaches, new drug therapies and new diagnostic tools. These researchers are pushing these boundaries and exploring exciting new directions.”

Round two cancer research fund awards are as follows:

Dr Laurence Klotz, Sunnybrook & Women’s College Health Sciences Centre Toronto. $540,000
Men suffering a recurrence of prostate cancer are treated with life-long, continuous androgen suppression therapy. One of the side effects of the treatment is osteoporosis, with approximately 40% of men developing an osteoporotic fracture. Dr Klotz has initiated a study of intermittent androgen suppression to determine if side effects can be reduced and survival increased. This study will determine whether bone loss is reduced when androgen therapy is used in an intermittent, cyclical fashion.

Dr Jean-Phillippe Pignol, Sunnybrook & Women’s College Health Sciences Centre Toronto. $265,626
High-energy photon particles are directed to the tumor during radiation treatment, but they often scatter and irradiate the surrounding normal organs. Dr Pignol’s research has found that photons of a specific energy are able to target the tumor more specifically, while reducing the scatter effect. The proposed research will design a novel radiation machine using computer simulation, and evaluate the potential benefit of this type of radiation for cancer treatment.

Dr James Thomas Rutka, The Hospital for Sick Children Toronto. $531,914
Recent research from Dr Rutka’s laboratory has shown that gene mutations in novel members of the hedgehog signaling pathway can lead to medulloblastoma. Using an animal model, Dr Rutka will determine if overexpression of a hedgehog signalling gene, Gli2, will cause medulloblastoma. Furthermore, he will determine if a newly described drug treatment can block hedgehog signaling and prevent medulloblastoma growth in this and other model systems.

Dr Yaacov Ben-David, Sunnybrook & Women’s College Health Sciences Centre Toronto. $483,498
Dr Ben-David has identified several important cancer genes that play a role in leukemias. His research has shown that the progression of leukemia in mice can be significantly delayed using the anti-inflammatory drug, celecoxib, in combination with low-dose chemotherapy. This research will identify the best combination of therapy for treating this disease.

Dr Cecil Pace-Asciak, The Hospital for Sick Children Toronto. $602,136
Dr Pace-Asciak and his colleagues have chemically designed a novel family of hormone-like compounds, called PBTs, that have selective biological effects in animal models. The PBTs have no acute side effects. His research has shown that PBTs control the growth of a leukemic cell line and leukemia cells from human blood that are resistant to conventional treatments. This research will test the use of PBTs to treat leukemia in mice, and understand the mechanism of cell kill, an important step in moving toward clinical use.

Dr Ronald Barr, McMaster University Hamilton. $664,650
This research will evaluate the health care costs and health-related quality of life in children and adolescents, during and after treatment for acute lymphoblastic leukemia.

Dr Fei-Fei Liu, University Health Network Toronto. $501,478
Dr Liu’s research will develop novel strategies for gene therapy to treat nasopharyngeal cancer. She will explore the use of toxic “death” genes combined with a re-engineered version of the common cold virus that only divides in cancer cells. In addition, she will also develop a novel imaging technique to track the actions of these genes in cancer cells.

Dr Andrew J Smith, Toronto Sunnybrook Regional Cancer Centre Toronto. $246,633
Dr Smith’s research has shown that for many patients undergoing surgery for colon cancer, not enough lymph nodes are removed/examined to determine accurate staging. As a result, these patients are not offered potentially life-saving chemotherapy. This research will determine whether an education program targeting surgeons and pathologists can change this physician behaviour.

Dr Brenda Louise Gallie, University Health Network Toronto. $446,066
Dr Gallie’s project will build an Internet database to record information on the treatment worldwide of retinoblastoma, a rare childhood cancer of the eye. The project will evaluate the use of computer informatics in improving patient care and research.

Dr Helen Chan / Brenda Louise Gallie, The Hospital for Sick Children / University Health Network Toronto. $551,722
Children being treated for retinoblastoma often develop resistance to the drugs used in treatment. Research has shown that by adding cyclosporin to the treatment, this multi-drug resistance can be reversed. This research will determine the efficacy of combining higher chemotherapy dosages with cyclosporin and other therapies.

Dr Steven Gallinger, Mount Sinai Hospital Toronto. $446,232
A very low number of patients with pancreatic cancer enroll in clinical trials as a treatment option, despite the high mortality rate of this disease. This study will follow the care of newly diagnosed pancreas cancer patients to understand why they are referred not referred to clinical trials.

Dr Harriet E. Feilotter, Queen’s University Kingston. $360,175
Follicular lymphoma is a common lymphoma in North American adults. Some tumours are very slow-growing and do not require early treatment. Others transform into fatally aggressive tumours, and early treatment would benefit patients. Using the latest DNA technology, Dr Feilotter will attempt to identify molecular markers or characteristics which could be used to predict tumour aggressiveness.

Dr John Kim, University Health Network Toronto. $330,034
There is evidence from laboratory studies that coxibs, a class of anti-inflammatory drugs, may make bowel cancers respond better to radiotherapy without increasing side effects when given concurrently with radiation. This clinical trial will test the safety and efficacy of this strategy. This study will also investigate the biologic effects of this combination therapy in tumours.

Dr Eric Bouffet, The Hospital for Sick Children Toronto. $304,970
This multicenter, phase II clinical trial will study the efficacy of vinblastine sulphate injection (Vinblastine), in children with recurrent low-grade gliomas, a type of brain tumour.

Dr Robert Glen Bristow, University Health Network Toronto. $487,296
Focusing on prostate and pancreatic cancer, Dr Bristow will be conducting laboratory testing of a new cancer drug that targets a specific DNA protein found in cancer cells. The research will determine whether the drug improves response to radiation and chemotherapy treatments without toxic effects.

Dr Wi
lliam Mackillop, Queen’s University Kingston. $848,644
Clinical trials have demonstrated that radiotherapy combined with chemotherapy is the most effective treatment for certain locally advanced cancers arising in the lungs, and the head and neck region. This research project will determine whether these findings are routinely applied in the treatment of patients in Ontario today, and lead to strategies to ensure that research discoveries benefit the maximum number of patients in the future.

Dr Jean Gariepy, University Health Network / University of Toronto Toronto. $387,792
By modifying a powerful bacterial toxin, Dr Gariepy will create new proteins that can bind and selectively destroy cancer cells. This protein template can be modified to create millions of similar, but distinctive, proteins that will function as mini-toxins. This research will determine what functions can be added to this protein template in order to create powerful guided agents that can target cancer cells.

Dr Liliana Attisano, University of Toronto, Toronto. $532,800
Research in colorectal cancer has shown that mutations in the Wnt signalling pathway play a major role in the onset of the disease. Through the use of high throughput analysis of Wnt activation, Dr Attisano’s project seeks to identify small molecule inhibitors of the Wnt pathway by screening a chemical library and to test these small molecules as drug candidates for colon cancer.

Dr James Wright, Hamilton Regional Cancer Centre Hamilton. $159,600
Despite the importance of cancer clinical trials, a very low proportion of cancer patients are recruited to such studies. The recruitment process typically depends on the doctor’s ability to remember all ongoing trials for which the patient may be eligible. This study will introduce a screening process to help physicians identify patients eligible for clinical trials and evaluate whether or not this process increases the number of patients approached to consider them.