Cancer Stem Cells

Cancer stem cells represent a new avenue for cancer research as their presence, in many malignancies studied so far, may explain the ability of tumours to proliferate, metastasize and survive traditional chemotherapy and radiation treatments. The ability to extract, culture and expand cancer stem or progenitor cell populations is central to advancing research and to enabling a rigorous investigation of the potential of cancer stem cells as targets for new, more specific, therapeutics.

The importance of this research has been recognized worldwide. In 2006, the Canada-California Strategic Innovation Partnership (CCSIP), (an initiative establishing a bilateral public/private partnership between Canada and California), identified research on cancer stem cells as a strategic theme area for collaboration between the two jurisdictions. In 2007, building on the momentum created by the CCSIP and the leadership of Canadian and Californian scientists in the cancer stem cell field, several of Canada's major research funding agencies (Canada Foundation for Innovation, Genome Canada, CIHR, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, and the Stem Cell Network of Centres of Excellence) established the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium (CSCC).

In June 2008, the CSCC established a formal partnership with California through the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) to explore possible collaborative funding of cancer stem cell research projects undertaken by Canadian and Californian research teams. The first opportunity for CSCC and CIRM collaborative funding of cancer stem cell research arising in the context of this MOU is CIRM's RFA 09-01 Disease Teams Research Awards Competition.

Funding Opportunity

Cancer Stem Cell: The funding opportunity was launched on February 19, 2009 with the final applications due on July 16, 2009. 


The results of CIRM’s Disease Teams Research Awards Competition were announced by CIRM in Los Angeles (press release) and by CSCC in Ottawa (press release) on October 28, 2009.  Two multi-disciplinary research teams co-led by Canadian and Californian scientists have been awarded funding through a Collaborative Partnership Program with CIRM. The program supports research that will result in a cancer stem cell based therapy with the specific aim of improving cancer treatment.

Development of Highly Active Anti-Leukemia Stem Cell Therapy (HALT)
Dr. John Dick, University Health Network, and Dr. Dennis Carson, University of California, San Diego, are co-leading a project that will focus on the development of novel drugs to treat leukemia, which will address a compelling medical need, as half of adults diagnosed with leukemia die of the disease. Substantial evidence supports the concept that recurrence and persistence of many leukemias arise from the relative resistance of leukemic stem cells (LSCs) to treatments currently in use, so the development of drugs that preferentially target LSCs may be particularly valuable in attacking both lymphoid and myeloid malignancies. 

Therapeutic Opportunities to Target Tumor Initiating Cells in Solid Tumors
Dr. Tak Mak
, University Health Network, and Dr. Dennis Slamon, UCLA, are co-leading a project that will utilize a pipeline strategy to develop novel drugs targeting cancer-initiating cells in solid tumor cancers. The reviewers of this application determined that the proposed drugs would provide a significant clinical benefit to cancer patients and recognized the unique capabilities of the assembled team to successfully identify and develop new drugs.

The two Canada-California collaborative projects on cancer stem cells were selected from thirty-one applications, which targeted a broad range of diseases and injury. Each Canadian team has requested close to CAD $20 million over four years, with their Californian partners requesting similar levels of funding from CIRM. Funding for the Canadian scientists is being provided by two members of CSCC, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and Genome Canada. Californian scientists will be funded by CIRM.

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