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Innovative Research
Innovative Research

"The Innovation Grant program really allows researchers to identify grants that would be best characterized as crazy, but not stupid." 

When it comes to the Society’s Innovation Grants, innovation is more than a name – it is a requirement.

“The innovation of each application is specifically assessed, as well as scientific merit and other important criteria,” explains Dr Sian Bevan, Director of Research, Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute. “These projects are based on high-risk ideas with the potential for high rewards.”

The program “really allows researchers to identify grants that would be best characterized as crazy, but not stupid,” says Dr Craig Thomas. A scientist at the National Centre for Advancing Translational Sciences, US National Institutes of Health, Dr Thomas is a 5-time volunteer grant reviewer for the Society, and a big fan of the Innovation Grants program.

“These are wonderful opportunities for researchers throughout Canada to put ideas down on paper that they would love for their colleagues – the people on the grant review panel – to take a look at and say, ‘wow, that’s outside the box.’”

The focus on innovation is paying off. Innovation Grant holders are already reporting discoveries in high-powered journals. The program’s success has inspired new i2I (Innovation to Impact) Grants, which allow scientists with significant Innovation Grant findings to take their ideas further.

Here are some Innovation Grant successes:

    • The rare and devastating pituitary blastoma (PitB) primarily affects infants – who are unable to communicate any symptoms that could lead to early diagnosis. Dr William Foulkes at Montreal’s Lady Davis Institute is tackling the genetics of the disease. He has published findings in Acta Neuropathol showing that gene mutations he is studying can be directly linked to the cancer. His work could lead to earlier detection of PitB and more effective treatment.
    • Colorectal cancer is responsible for the most Canadian cancer deaths, after lung cancer, but we know little about its causes. Dr Stephen Girardin at University of Toronto is studying the protein NLRX1, which is connected to colorectal cancer. Recently, he reported in the Journal of Biological Chemistry that NLRX1 levels are controlled by glucose (sugar), indicating that NLRX1 is linked to energy metabolism, which is altered in cancer cells. His team further determined that this protein regulates the death of cancer cells. This is essential new information about the processes that lead to colorectal cancer.
    • Some cancers are so difficult to treat because of the strategies used by cancer cells to avoid normal cell death. Dr Robert Korneluk at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario in Ottawa published a paper in the prestigious journal Nature Biotechnology, reporting on his development of a new treatment that in mouse models caused tumours to shrink and extended survival. The treatment combines 2 types of drugs: one that counteracts a protective mechanism used by cancer cells and one that kills them more effectively. As both drugs are already being independently tested, this combined treatment should pass through regulatory channels much more quickly than an entirely new drug.
    • The study of the genetics of cells within tumours is a complex area of research. Dr Sohrab Shah at University of British Columbia has published a paper in Nature Methods describing a new innovative research tool he has developed. Called PyClone, it can organize gene mutation data about tumours and project characteristics of those tumour cells, such as the ability to spread or resist drugs.
    • Lung cancer is difficult to diagnose in its early stages, when treatment could be most effective. Dr Igor Stagljar at University of Toronto has published a paper in Nature Methods outlining a new method he has devised to identify molecular-level processes leading to non-small cell lung cancer. This is a tremendous step toward developing new diagnostic tools and treatments for lung cancer.
    • Depriving cancer cells of the food they need to survive is one path scientists are exploring to fight the disease. Dr Poul Sorensen at University of British Columbia published a paper in Cell about his investigations into how cancer cells adapt to the stress caused by nutrient deprivation, so that counter-tactics can be developed. His work suggests that the protein eEF2K is a clear target for drug development as its absence makes cancer cells less able to survive nutrient stress.

Links:

Dr. Alberto Martin
Dr. Alberto Martin

Thanks to the support from our generous donors the Canadian Cancer Society is able to fund research that will ultimately change cancer forever.

The following represents some of the highest impact research of 2014 and highlights the breadth of research supported by the Society's donors. 

Carbs, gut microbes fuel colorectal cancer
Genetics, diet and gut microbes all contribute to the development of colorectal cancer, but how these factors work together to promote cancer is not well understood. Dr Alberto Martin in Toronto investigated these connections in a mouse model of colorectal cancer and found that gut microbes resulting from a diet high in carbohydrates interacted with cancer-causing genes to fuel cancer development. These findings have important implications for reducing cancer risk by changing diet and the make-up of gut microbes.

Mapping the evolution of cancer cells
Dr Samuel Aparicio and Dr Sohrab Shah in Vancouver made important discoveries that shed light on how cancer cells evolve in tumours. The researchers developed a new tool to group genetic mutations in a single tumour and used it to predict how cells in breast cancers evolve and grow over time. Understanding and predicting changes in complex cancers may provide new options for targeted treatments.

Gene mutation could be the trigger for leukemia
In Toronto, Dr John Dick investigated the importance of over 100 genes commonly mutated in the early stages of leukemia. He found that a mutation in the gene DNMT3A plays a key role, making cells with this mutation resistant to chemotherapy and faster growing than normal stem cells. These findings identify a possible starting point for the disease which could help doctors diagnose and treat patients earlier.

Genetic test to predict prostate cancer relapse
Dr Robert Bristow in Toronto was part of an international team that developed a genetic test to predict which men are at highest risk of their prostate cancers returning following treatment. This test provides a way to identify patients who need more aggressive treatments, while avoiding over-treatment for patients whose cancers are less likely to return.

Gene mutations linked to lung cancer risk
Dr Rayjean Hung in Toronto was part of an international research team that found rare variations of the BRCA2 and CHEK2 genes associated with squamous cell lung cancer in people of European ancestry. They also found genetic links for lung adenocarcinoma with a gene variation previously only reported in Asian populations. These findings contribute new knowledge about the genetic basis of lung cancer and have implications for the screening of high-risk individuals with these inherited mutations.

Long-term effects of treatment for childhood brain cancer
A study led by Dr Donald Mabbott in Toronto found that children treated for medulloblastoma, a childhood brain cancer, had smaller regions of the brain associated with learning and memory, which was also linked to impairment in these abilities. This study highlights the need for more targeted therapies that minimize the late effects of treatment on survivors.

Banning patio smoking helps smokers to quit
Dr Michael Chaiton in Toronto led a survey of over 3,000 smokers about their exposure to smoke on patios and found that smokers were less likely to be successful in their quitting efforts after being exposed to tobacco smoke on a patio. These findings were used as evidence to support an Ontario government ban on smoking on patios and other outdoor public spaces.

Not all stem cells are created equal
Dr Mick Bhatia in Hamilton discovered that human stem cells made from adult donor cells remembered what cell types they came from. When reprogrammed in the lab they preferentially reverted to their original cell type. Dr Bhatia’s discovery will have important implications for new stem cell therapies.

The costs and benefits of lung cancer screening
A study led by Dr Stuart Peacock in Vancouver showed that the average costs of screening individuals at high-risk for lung cancer and treating cancerous growths discovered through early detection were lower than the costs of treating advanced lung cancer. These findings provide important information to policymakers considering the value of lung cancer screening programs in high-risk groups.

Making immunotherapies work for more people
Harnessing the immune system’s powerful ability to fight cancer, Dr Claude Perreault in Montreal has identified new molecules that attract T cells, the body’s natural killing machines which help fight off germs and diseases. Dr Perreault used a new approach to identify molecules that attract the T cell’s cancer-fighting abilities. These findings could help increase the number of cancer patients who could benefit from immunotherapies.

Thanks to the support from donors like yourself, and gold-standard peer-review process, the Canadian Cancer Society funds the best cancer research in Canada. Our funded researchers work in universities, hospitals and research centres across the country and are mapping new ways to change cancer forever. Please help us to continue to make progress in the fight against cancer.  Make a donation today.

For more information, visit cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333 (TTY 1-866-786-3934).

Dr Mick Bhatia
Dr Mick Bhatia
Dr Claude Perreault and team
Dr Claude Perreault and team
Dr Rayjean Hung
Dr Rayjean Hung

Links:

As your best partner in the fight against cancer, we want you to be informed about how your donations make a difference. We believe donors should have access to meaningful information that enables them to make informed choices about where they would like to donate. In our commitment to transparency and accountability, we address one of the most commonly asked questions we receive.

Why should I donate to the Canadian Cancer Society?

The Canadian Cancer Society accomplishes more with your donations because of our reach, resources and experience. For more than 70 years, we have worked on many levels to fight back against cancer in communities across Canada – from helping patients, to empowering Canadians with trusted health information, to advocating on local, provincial and national levels, and by funding excellent research with international acclaim. With the support of volunteers, staff, donors and partners, we have more impact against more cancers in more communities than any other cancer charity in Canada.

Research is the Canadian Cancer Society’s single largest investment in the fight against cancer. As the primary supporter of Canadian cancer research, we have the opportunity to make the biggest impact. A 2010 study of the American Journal of Evaluation showed that Canadian researchers – a significant portion of which are funded by the Society – are making a bigger scientific impact than other researchers around the world.

Today, in large part due to our work and the support of our generous donors, over 62 per cent of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive compared with about 25 per cent in the 1940's. Thanks to our research, the treatment of cancer and the quality of life during treatment has dramatically improved in the last 30 years.

Our programs and services are offered free of charge, thanks to our thousands of cancer fighting volunteers and the generosity of the caring individuals who support the fight.

Our programs and services ensure no one facing cancer need face it alone.

 


 [PG(PO1]I changed this as it sounds like we are thanking the individuals who support our volunteers, not the programs. Do you think putting in “the fight” is OK?

"Will there ever be a cure for cancer?"

Many people have asked this question – those who are living with cancer, those whose families have been touched by the disease, those who fear that cancer might be in their future.

The good news is that we’re closer than ever to fully understanding, treating, controlling and preventing the many diseases called “cancer.” Today, over 60% of Canadians diagnosed with cancer will survive at least 5 years after their diagnosis. In the 1940s, survival was about 25%.

Incidence rates for most cancer sites are stabilizing or declining. Other recent statistics show the progress we have made against specific cancers, and also the work we still have to do.

In addition to breakthroughs in new treatment approaches, research has also helped to tremendously refine the three “traditional” approaches to cancer treatment — chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. While these approaches have been used for decades to treat cancer, there is a level of personalization and sophistication available today that can only be credited to research.

For example, surgery is now more accurate and often less invasive. Chemotherapy drugs are constantly being fine-tuned. We are also improving ways to deliver radiation therapy so that the treatment is more effective and healthy cells are not affected.

At the same time, there has been a veritable explosion of knowledge about the proteins, genes and cells involved in cancer over the past two decades. This exploding knowledge base is giving us the ability to pose and answer questions we could not even have conceived of 10 to 20 years ago, and is propelling us towards our ultimate goal of creating a world where no one needs to fear cancer.

Some experts doubt that we’ll ever find a single, universal cure for cancer, which isn’t really a single disease but actually is 200 or more different diseases. Yet researchers have uncovered a staggering amount of information about cancer over the past two decades.

This revolution in our understanding of cancer has set the stage for a new era in cancer therapy and prevention, due in part to the many studies and clinical trials funded by the Canadian Cancer Society.

Thanks to research, we are closer than ever before to fully understanding cancer. A broad range of research funded by the Canadian Cancer Society has contributed to our current knowledge of the disease. And as our knowledge increases, we will see even greater progress.

For more information on cancer and information on the Canadian Cancer Society please visit our website at www.cancer.ca.

We have a profound responsibility to fight cancer by any means possible. This year alone there will be 177,800 new cases of cancer in Canada. We know that we need to attack cancer at a number of levels if we want to have an impact, including funding groundbreaking research, advocating for healthy public policy and delivering programs to communities, cancer patients and their families.

We have had a number of wins this year and each victory is a testament to the strength and courage of our supporters.

One of our investments in research funded a groundbreaking approach in monitoring families with an abnormal susceptibility to cancer. This advancement is changing lives not only in Canada but around the world. The Toronto Protocol developed by Dr. David Malkin, is offering patients a new lease on life, which would not be possible without our fundraising efforts.

This year, out Cancer Information Service answered its one millionth call. Since the service began in 1996, Canadians have turned to us for information, support and resources about specific cancers and treatments. We know that cancer patients will continue to turn to us for the information they need.

At every step of the journey, our impact has grown through the continued generosity of our donors, the commitment of our 65,000 volunteers and the determination of our staff.

However, it is the stories of the people with whom we engage that keep us going. With your continued support, we will create a world where no one fears cancer.

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Yolande Usher

Toronto, Ontario Canada

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