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Researchers hunt for new treatments for mantle cell lymphoma


Vancouver, BC December 23, 2003 Researchers at the BC Cancer Agency have been awarded US$2.1 million to hunt for the causes and new treatments for mantle cell lymphoma, a rare but particularly deadly form of lymphoma. Mantle cell lymphoma (MCL) accounts for between 5-7% of lymphomas, primarily strikes men in their 50s and 60s, and is often incurable.

The Lymphoma Research Foundation (LRF), a US-based health research funding organization, made the award. The LRF received a US $12.8-million anonymous donation to support international MCL research. The BC Cancer Agency project is among nine projects to be funded in 2003; another nine projects will be announced in January 2004. The agency was the only Canadian group to receive funding in 2003.

“When we convened leading scientists to explore the scope and depth of current mantle cell research, the work at the BC Cancer Agency clearly stood out as among the best in the world,” said Joseph Bertino, MD, chair of the LRF scientific advisory board. “Our goal is to fund the most cutting-edge lymphoma research in order to find a cure, and we’re very excited about this collaborative project.”

Lymphoma is a general term for cancers that develop in the lymphatic system. MCL belongs to a group of diseases known as non-Hodgkin’s lymphomas. About 60 men and women will be diagnosed with MCL this year in BC. While progress has been made for treating other lymphomas, researchers have been frustrated by their inability to find successful treatments for MCL.

“The current menu of treatment options has shown little success for patients with mantle cell lymphoma,” says principal investigator Dr Randy Gascoyne of the BC Cancer Agency and one of the world’s foremost lymphoma researchers. “Less than 10% of patients with mantle cell lymphoma are alive after 10 years. The secret to solving the mystery of mantle cell lymphoma is to thoroughly understand the biology and in doing so, to identify novel markers that can be targets for new therapies.”

BC Cancer Agency researchers, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of BC, the University of Leicester in England, and the University Hospital in Kiel, Germany, will conduct eight closely linked projects, over a three-year period. Researchers hope the projects will culminate in clinical trials being conducted at the BC Cancer Agency, which has a model integrated research and treatment system. “While we are studying the disease at the most basic scientific level, our goal at the end of the three years is to translate those discoveries into more effective treatments for patients,” explains Dr Gascoyne.

Dr Gascoyne is confident the group will succeed in gaining major insights into the biology of MCL. BC is one of the few places in the world to have a population-based databank, which tracks all patient diagnoses and treatment outcomes. It is also directly linked to a patient tissue bank, with hundreds of archival mantle cell tissue samples that can be used to test novel research discoveries. “Because of our unique system, we can go back and test samples in order to determine whether or not patients with MCL expressed a particular type of gene or protein in malignant cells and whether this has any relationship to outcome,” he says.

Furthermore, the lymphoma research group has access to the genomics expertise of scientists at the agency’s research laboratories, including the Genome Sciences Centre (GSC), in hunting for the genes that cause MCL.

The BC Cancer Agency says it has the largest lymphoma research program in Canada and one of the largest programs in North America.