Inaugural innovation grants announced for bold unorthodox research ideas

29 February 2012

Vancouver -

embargoed until 1000 (PST) February 29, 2012— The Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute has awarded its inaugural Innovation Grants to support unconventional concepts, approaches or methodologies to address problems in cancer research. Approximately $1.5 million will go to eight BC based researchers for innovative projects.

“We are thrilled to be able to fund these outstanding, novel projects that show incredible creativity and great potential for their impact in the fight against cancer,” says Dr Christine Williams, Vice-President of Research, Canadian Cancer Society. “We await the results of these studies with tremendous excitement.”

“BC clearly has its share of innovators,” said Barbara Kaminsky, CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society, BC and Yukon. “There is the potential for making major advancements to benefit patients. They may involve high risk ideas, but they have the potential for high rewards.”

Approximately $4.5 million has been invested across Canada in 23 projects. Additional grants in cancer prevention and population health interventions will be announced later in the year.

The recipients are:

Colin Collins, Senior Scientist and Co-director, Microarray Facility Vancouver Prostate Centre, is focused on clearing a sequencing bottleneck. He is developing tools to analyse hundreds and thousands of cancer genomes to help identify tumour-specific biomarkers and potential drug targets for prostate cancer. 

Cheryl Helgason, Senior Scientist, Experimental Therapeutics, BC Cancer Agency, is working with laboratory models to determine which non-coding RNA molecules (a new type of genetic material) are responsible for the spread of prostate cancer and identify new targets for treatment.   

Philip Hieter, Professor, Medical Genetics, UBC, is testing combinations of therapies which damage DNA and block the repair of DNA in simple yeast and worm organisms (with genetic defects similar to those found in human cancers). He hopes to identify those most effective at killing tumour cells. 

Mladen Korbelik, Distinguished Scientist, Integrative Oncology, BC Cancer Agency, is using strong light (photodynamic therapy) to destroy tumour cells after they have been sensitized using specific drugs to create powerful cancer vaccines that can initiate an immune response to eradicate cancer cells. 

Christopher Loewen, Asst Professor, Cell and Developmental Biology, UBC, is examining biosensors in yeast that regulate metabolic changes involved in the growth and spread of tumours. He hopes to use this knowledge to understand metabolic changes in human cancers and to identify novel drugs and drug targets.   

Andrew Minchinton, Distinguished Scientist, Integrative Oncology, BC Cancer Agency, is using state of the art technologies to test a new set of drugs to re-sensitize cancer cells that have slowed down their growth to become resistant to chemotherapy.   

Miriam Rosin, Senior Scientist, Cancer Control, BC Cancer Agency, is studying the excised tonsils of patients to determine patterns of HPV infection and conducting surveys to assess if lifestyle factors increase risk of tonsil cancers.   

Sohrab Shah, Molecular Oncology, BC Cancer Agency, is developing a prototype computer program to identify genetic mutations that drive breast and ovarian cancers. This is expected to speed up research around the world that relies on finding important gene mutations as the basis of new therapies.  

Please note: Researchers available for comment (with the exception of Dr Colin Collins who is overseas).

In 2010 The Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute announced an evaluation and re-design of the research portfolio to align with the Canadian Cancer Society’s strategic plan.

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:

Gina Ungaro

Media Contact

Canadian Cancer Society

Phone: 604-675-7335