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Putting colorectal cancer on the map

19 March 2013

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Researchers in Hamilton, Ontario, have developed an innovative solution to the difficult problem of looking deep within the human colon for signs of cancer. It is “street-view” mapping – the same way Google does it – using cameras to take pictures in every direction.  

“Unlike conventional colonoscopy, which only looks straight ahead, this new method can be likened to Google Street View, giving us a panoramic view of the colon and helping us identify the exact locations of suspicious growths or lesions,” says Dr Qiyin Fang, an associate professor and Canada Research Chair in Biophotonics at McMaster University.

Dr Fang has received a $194,000 Innovation Grant from the Canadian Cancer Society to develop and test the new imaging technology. His project is one of 37 new Canadian Cancer Society Innovation Grants announced today. These grants, worth over $7 million in total, support research that has the potential to significantly improve our understanding of cancer and generate new approaches to prevention, early detection and treatment.

Dr Fang’s project will use a near-infrared light imager to take thousands of pictures and use blood vessels as “landmarks” to create a map of the colon. The images will then be analyzed using complex algorithms, zeroing in on suspicious growths that require follow-up. This first-of-its-kind approach is expected to lead to improved methods of diagnosing and treating colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer death for men and women combined. Last year, an estimated 23,300 Canadians were diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 9,200 died of it.

Early detection of polyps is a vital part of fighting the disease, but polyps can sometimes hide within the constantly moving folds of the colon. With this new imaging technique, it will be much easier to detect and relocate abnormalities.

“The research we’re funding through these Innovation Grants demonstrates that Canadian scientists are some of the most creative and committed in their fight against cancer,” says Dr Siân Bevan, Director, Research for the Canadian Cancer Society. “We’re thrilled to be able to support projects that have the potential to dramatically change the way we understand cancer and how we prevent, diagnose and treat the disease.”

Other Innovation Grants

With a $200,000 Innovation Grant, Dr Catherine O’Brien, a surgeon in the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre at University Health Network in Toronto, will study the link between bacteria in the colon and cancer development.

The human colon normally contains several hundred generally harmless and mostly helpful bacteria. However, research is showing that some bacteria are able to invade colon cancer cells (normal colon cells do not contain bacteria). The key question to be answered is whether the invasive bacteria inside the cells play a role in causing colon cancer or whether they are the result of the cancer. The answer could lead to new treatment and screening strategies.

The Society’s Innovation Grants program supports innovative, creative problem solving and unconventional concepts, approaches or methodologies in cancer research. See our media backgrounder  for more information about Dr O’Brien’s and other new Innovation Grants.

For 75 years the Canadian Cancer Society has been with Canadians in the fight for life. We have been relentless in our commitment to prevent cancer, fund research and support Canadians touched by cancer. From this foundation, we will work with Canadians to change cancer forever so fewer Canadians are diagnosed with the disease and more survive.

Visit cancer.ca or call us at 1-888-939-3333 (TTY 1-866-786-3934).

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:

Rosie Hales

Communications Specialist

Canadian Cancer Society

National office

Phone: 416 934-5338