Promising Alberta cancer researchers awarded Canadian Cancer Society grants

27 April 2011

Calgary -

This Daffodil Day, the Canadian Cancer Society is committing more than $1.6 million dollars to cancer research based in Alberta. The announcement coincides with the first national Daffodil Day – a day to recognize and support those living with cancer.

The projects range from ovarian to lung cancer, and the results of the research will potentially have great impact on Canadians and their health.

Every three minutes, another Canadian is diagnosed with cancer. In Alberta alone, more than 16,000 of us will be told that we have cancer this year.

“I was aware of cancer from a very early age since my grandmother was a breast and uterine cancer survivor,” says Dr Hanne Ostergaard, a University of Alberta professor and one of this year’s funding recipients. “I also had an aunt who had breast cancer when I was a teenager, so I knew what cancer could do to families."

Dr Ostergaard and her research team have been awarded more than $430,000 to continue working on the body’s natural ‘killer cells’ that actually destroy cancer cells. The team is trying to understand how these cells wipe out cancer cells so that they can become even more effective at eliminating cancer cells wherever they appear in the body.

“When I started graduate school in immunology, I wanted to work on killer cells because I thought they would be an important tool in the fight against cancer,” says Dr Ostergaard. “The idea of using the immune system to fight cancer was really in its infancy at the time, but I could see the potential.”

Dr Ostergaard started her career in California, where she was born, but now calls Edmonton home – where she lives with her husband, who is also a cancer researcher.

“We are so proud to provide the financial support to scientists like Dr Ostergaard and the others on our growing roster of outstanding researchers,” says Dr Michael Weinfeld, a Canadian Cancer Society board member, who is also a cancer researcher at the University of Alberta. “High-calibre research like this is what allows us to continually push us ahead in the race to unravel the many mysteries of cancer.”

There are more than 200 different kinds of cancer. The Canadian Cancer Society funds cancer research investigating all types of cancer throughout the country. Public donations fund the Society and the hundreds of superior cancer researchers working across Canada.

“Research is the key to beating cancer,” says Dr Weinfeld. “Although we know there is much more to be done, we are seeing great progress through research. Today, more than 62 per cent of Canadians will survive a cancer diagnosis – that’s nearly double the survival rate in the 1960s.”

The following are this year’s new Canadian Cancer Society-funded grants to Alberta researchers:

  • Dr YangXin Fu, University of Alberta, awarded more than $422,000 over three years to study how the growth and progression of ovarian cancer is controlled at the molecular level. His goal is to find better treatments for ovarian cancer patients. 
  • Dr Frank Jirik, University of Calgary, recipient of more than $422,000 over three years to determine how the nature and behaviour of cancer cells can change when they spread to secondary sites in the body through metastasis. Dr Jirik’s team will be specifically studying lung cancer cells to find out how these cells become more aggressive and identify ways to prevent and treat metastases.
  • Dr Hanne Ostergaard, awarded $432,000 to continue studying the body’s natural killer cells. Some cancer drugs currently in clinical trials block the function of a particular protein that helps cancer cells move, but Dr Ostergaard’s team believes this protein also helps the body’s natural killer cells fight cancer. This study will advance the understanding of the protein to help determine how to prevent cancer cells from metastasizing and promote killer cell function.
  • Dr Roger Zemp, awarded more than $366,000 to develop a new laser based imaging technology to study early tumour development and response to drugs. This highly-sensitive technology will provide cancer biologists and clinicians insight into tumours in a new way that’s never been available before. It may impact both lab studies and clinical trials.

The Canadian Cancer Society, the largest national charitable funder of cancer research, is funding projects across the country that cover a broad spectrum of cancer research, from risk reduction to genetic studies to sdrug development and palliative care. This groundbreaking research is advancing how cancer is prevented, diagnosed, treated and ultimately cured.

About Daffodil Day

This year, the announcement of the Canadian Cancer Society’s new grant recipients coincides with Daffodil Day – a national day to recognize and support those living with cancer.  Although most of us don’t fight cancer in a lab like our new grant recipients, we can all proudly wear a daffodil pin to show our support for those battling the disease on April 27. Find out where to get your pin at fightback.ca.

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.

For more information, please contact:

Deanna Kraus

Media Relations Specialist

Phone: (403) 541-5375