Unraveling The Mystery Of Brain Cancer

03 April 2013

Windsor -

A Windsor scientist has been awarded Canadian Cancer Society funding for her innovative approach to studying how aggressive brain cancers develop. This promising work could lead to better diagnosis and treatment options in the future and save lives.

Dr Lisa Porter, Associate Professor at the University of Windsor, has received more than $185,000 through an Innovation Grant to study how brain cancer tumors, specifically high-grade gliomas, develop in their very earliest stages.

Gliomas are the most common type of primary brain tumour in adults and account for about 70% of all tumours of the central nervous system. Brain tumours are also a leading cause of cancer-related death in children. High-grade tumours are particularly aggressive because they tend to grow quickly.

Dr Porter and her team will investigate the role of a protein called Spy1 in how brain cancer develops from healthy cells. The Spy1 protein ensures that brain stem cells, which have the ability to develop into any kind of brain cells, are permitted to grow only when the brain needs them.  If brain stem cells are not kept in check, they start to grow rapidly for a long time. Previous research has shown that high levels of Spy1 are found in brain tumours and are associated with poorer survival rates for patients.

Dr Porter’s innovative work is the first time the Spy1 protein will be studied from this angle. She will also examine the origins of brain cancer tumours from a new perspective, comparing how tumours develop in children and adults.

“Brain cancers are hard to treat because they represent some of the most aggressive forms of cancer that are very difficult to destroy with drugs, and often cause a recurrence. I’m grateful for the funding from the Canadian Cancer Society because our work could lead to the development of more effective and individualized brain cancer therapies for patients,” says Dr Porter.

Dr Porter has received Canadian Cancer Society research funding in the past through the Society’s partnership with the Canadian Breast Cancer Research Alliance. This is Dr Porter’s first Innovation Grant.

The goal of the Society’s Innovation Grant funding is to support unconventional concepts, approaches or methodologies to address problems and to push the envelope in cancer research. These projects are selected according to their potential for “high reward” – to dramatically impact what is known about cancer and generate completely new approaches to combating the disease.

In Canada, an estimated 2,800 people were diagnosed with brain cancer in 2012. Sadly, 1,850 people were estimated to die of this type of cancer. The relative five-year survival rate for all cancers combined is 62%. In stark contrast, the 5-year relative survival rate for brain cancer is only 23%.

The Canadian Cancer Society would like to see more people overcome the daunting odds associated with brain and other hard-to-treat cancers. “Lung, colorectal, ovarian, pancreatic, and brain cancers are responsible for almost half of cancer deaths yet receive only about quarter of research funding that’s designated to specific types of cancer,” says Dr Martin Kabat, CEO for the Canadian Cancer Society in Ontario. “We already know that investment in specific areas of cancer research has yielded enormous benefits and we believe that a significant injection of funds will have the same impact on these often very lethal cancers.”

John Weese of Windsor is very aware of the plight of brain cancer patients. His 76 year-old mother, Doreen Woods died of the disease in September 2012. “Through my mother’s 8-year-long battle, our family witnessed how devastating this type of cancer is. It was heart-breaking to see the toll the disease took on someone so full of life. It’s my wish that the funding the Canadian Cancer Society is providing to Dr Porter will bring us one step closer to brain cancer’s demise,” says John.

Since March 19, 2013 the Canadian Cancer Society has announced a total of 37 Innovation Grants representing a $7.2 million research investment across the country, with 20 grants in Ontario alone. The Society is the largest national charitable funder of cancer research in Canada.

This world-class research is supported by fundraising efforts. April is Daffodil Month and the Canadian Cancer Society encourages people to make a donation and wear a daffodil pin throughout the month to show support for people living with cancer and remember those who have died. Visit fightback.ca to make a donation or find the nearest daffodil pin location.

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. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website at cancer.ca or call our toll-free bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1-888-939-3333 (TTY: 1-866-786-3934).

For more information, please contact:

Justin Edmonstone

Public Affairs

Canadian Cancer Society

Ontario Division

Phone: 416-323-7026