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For the past 10 years, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) has supported better health and health care for Canadians. As the Government of Canada's health research investment agency, CIHR enables the creation of evidence-based knowledge and its transformation into improved treatments, prevention and diagnoses, new products and services, and a stronger, patient-oriented health-care system. Composed of 13 internationally recognized Institutes, CIHR supports more than 13,600 health researchers and trainees across Canada. Through CIHR, the Government of Canada invested approximately $159.1 million in 2009–10 in cancer-related research.
- Almost 6 million Canadians – about 20% of people 12 and older – smoked either daily or occasionally in 2009. For males it was 22.6%; for females, 7.7%. The lowest rates were among 12- to 15-year-olds (3.0%) and seniors (9.6%). Smoking is a risk factor for many cancers, including lung cancer.1
- An estimated 173,800 new cases of cancer (excluding non-melanoma skin cancers) and 76,200 cancer deaths occurred in Canada in 2010.2
- On average, every week 3,340 Canadians will be diagnosed with cancer. Lung, prostate, breast and colorectal cancer likely will account for about 50% of all new cases.2
- An estimated one in four Canadians will die from cancer.2
- Statistics Canada: Health Fact Sheets, Smoking, 2009
- Canadian Cancer Society: General Cancer Statistics for 2010
Researchers show evolution of cancer
CIHR-funded researchers Drs. Samuel Aparicio and Marco Marra of the BC Cancer Agency co-led a study that revealed how breast cancer mutates as it evolves from a primary tumour to metastasized state. The findings were published in a Nature cover story. By sequencing, for the first time ever, the genomes of tumour tissues donated by a woman at the outset of her cancer and when it recurred nine years later, the researchers showed the primary tumour was a mosaic of cells containing different mutations, which evolved over time. The discovery opens new doors to fight cancer, including personalized treatments targeting the genetic makeup of a patient's primary and metastatic tumours.
Memorial researchers patent cancer detection procedure
Two cancer researchers at Memorial University have successfully patented a cancer detection procedure. Drs. Ken Kao and Cathy Popadiuk secured the patent for an invention involving the Pygopus gene. "We have figured out the mechanism of how cancer cells hijack Pygopus and used this knowledge to develop a diagnostic kit for cancer detection," Dr. Kao told Memorial University's The Gazette. The next step will be to find a commercial partner to push the development of the invention forward. "Commercial development of a product is the only way medical technology advances can reach the patient," says Dr. Kao.
Viral approach to attacking cancers shows promise
More than a decade of research by Dr. John Bell of the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute into the use of genetically engineered viruses that kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells untouched is paying dividends with promising results in several clinical trials. Working with Jennerex Biotherapeutics, which he co-founded, Dr. Bell developed JX-594, a virus that can attack cancers of the liver, colon, kidney and lung, as well as melanoma. In April 2010, Jennerex reported encouraging results from a randomized Phase 2 clinical trial using JX-594 for the treatment of advanced liver cancer and followed that up in September with similar results in a pilot trial using the virus followed by the liver cancer drug sorafenib.
A synthetic solution to chemo-resistance
Having developed and tested a synthetic version of a compound found in Malaysian trees and shrubs, McGill University researcher Dr. Jerry Pelletier has moved a step closer to overcoming some tumours' resistance to chemotherapy treatments. Dr. Pelletier, who is working in collaboration with colleagues at Boston University and New York's Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, has identified a synthetic version of the compound silvestrol that shows equivalent activity to the rare natural version. Tests on cells and in mice have shown promise in boosting the impact of chemotherapy. Dr. Pelletier is in discussions with venture capital groups to secure support for clinical trials.
Shutting down calpain could shut down tumours
A better understanding of the role that a protein called calpain plays in the survival and proliferation of tumours may help women whose cancers recur and no longer respond to treatment. Dr. Peter Greer of Queen's University has studied the role of calpain in basal cell breast cancer and found that blocking it can result in a substantial reduction of tumour growth. He is turning his sights on breast cancer caused by the over-expression of human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER-2), responsible for about 20% of breast cancers. While patients initially respond to therapy directed against HER-2, there is a high relapse rate, after which sensitivity to treatment is lost. "We think calpain allows the HER-2 receptor to essentially hide from the therapeutic agent," says Dr. Greer. The research could lead to improving treatment outcomes by adding calpain-inhibiting agents to HER-2 targeted therapies.
For More Information
The CIHR Institute of Cancer Research (CIHR-ICR) has been coordinating cancer research across Canada in priority areas such as palliative and end-of-life care, establishing a model for the world. Future priorities span the continuum of cancer and include prevention, individualized cancer care, cancer stem cells, and survivorship, with research training and capacity building being overarching priorities. To learn more about these priorities and other CIHR-ICR activities, please visit the Institute's website.
For more information, go to ARCHIVED - Your Health Research Dollars at Work.