Innovative Alberta cancer researcher awarded new Canadian Cancer Society grant
29 February 2012
Struck by the fact that 11 Canadian men will die of prostate cancer every day, an immunologist at the University of Alberta is harnessing the immune system to better attack the disease. It’s research the Canadian Cancer Society awarded with its inaugural Innovation Grant.
Dr Kevin Kane received nearly $200,000 for his work towards stimulating the body’s own ‘killer cells’ to destroy prostate cancer cells.
“We know we have powerful cells within the immune system that are capable of eliminating tumours,” he says. “So why not better direct them to eliminate cancer?”
Of the thousands of genes altered by prostate cancer, the immune system only targets a few. So Dr Kane and his research team developed a non-invasive screening system “to pick out the needles in the haystack.” The screen will allow the researcher to identify the mutated genes that are being targeted by killer cells – genes that can then be tested for immunotherapy.
“If we can manipulate the immune system to better attack cancer, that would be far better and far more specific than trying to use chemotherapy drugs which are often not so specific and can have terrible side effects,” says Dr Kane.
His goal is to create a universal platform that identifies the right targets for killer cells to attack in prostate cancer – the most common cancer diagnosed in Canadian men. He believes the screen could eventually be used to tailor immunotherapy for ovarian, breast and, potentially, lung cancers. Furthermore, the screen could potentially be directed at specific cancer gene targets that are unique to an individual – targets that are possibly the most relevant to their survival.
“Dr Kane’s research has the potential to truly personalize the treatment of cancer,” says Dr Michael Weinfeld, a Canadian Cancer Society board member and researcher at the University of Alberta.
This year, the Canadian Cancer Society is committing more than $4.5 million through the new Innovation Grant to 23 cancer researchers across the country. The grant was created to support unique research that will help in the fight against all cancers, of which there are more than 200 types. Dr Kane is the only Alberta-based researcher to receive the Innovation Grant this year.
“We need to continue to do hypothesis-driven research because it opens up opportunities for us to make more innovative steps later on,” says Dr Kane. “The Innovation Grant means we may get there faster, with respect to innovation that helps patients.”
The Canadian Cancer Society, the largest national charitable funder of cancer research, contributed nearly $50 million to research projects across the country in 2011.
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.