Could “Feeding” Cancer Stop It From Spreading? Canadian Cancer Society Gives Green Light to Innovative Research Ideas

29 February 2012

Montreal, QC -

Society announces $4.5 million in new funding for 23 high-risk, high-reward innovation grants

A London, Ontario, cardiologist is turning cancer research on its head by proposing that increasing the blood supply to a tumour (in effect, feeding the tumour) could actually prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. Previous research had suggested a more intuitive route – that starving a tumour of its blood supply could prevent it from spreading, however that method (known as anti-angiogenesis) has shown limited success to date.

In fact, Dr Geoffrey Pickering’s theory is that starving tumours may actually make them more aggressive, rather than less. With a $200,000 Innovation Grant from the Canadian Cancer Society, he will test his tumour-feeding idea which, if correct, could revolutionize the way cancer patients are treated.

“A key reason why cancer exerts its deadly toll is because it can spread to different organs,” says Dr Pickering, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Western Ontario. “The concept of deliberately improving the blood supply to a tumour may sound counterintuitive, but we believe it has real potential to stop the tumour from spreading – to render it non‑aggressive.”

Dr Pickering and his team will test the theory on mice with various types of cancers, including breast, lung, brain, and colon. Using specialized microscope techniques and MRI technology, they will observe blood flow in the mice to determine if the “overfed” tumours become “calm” and therefore do not spread to other organs.

In addition, says Dr Pickering, there are other potential benefits to this method. “By opening up the blood supply, cancer drugs may be able to reach the entire tumour and thus be more effective. As well, radiation therapy works better when tumours receive a good amount of oxygen through the blood,” he says.

Innovation Grants: “Creative, unorthodox ideas for solving cancer problems in different ways”

Dr Pickering, who has many years experience as a cardiologist and scientist, has never applied his research ideas to fighting cancer before. “I had been mulling this idea over in my head for a while but when I saw the description of the Canadian Cancer Society Innovation Grants it really caught my eye,” he says. “They were looking for scientists with creative, unorthodox ideas for solving cancer problems in different ways. And so I applied for funding and I’m elated that I can now go ahead with this research.”

These are the Canadian Cancer Society’s first-ever Innovation Grants. The goal of this new program is to support unconventional concepts, approaches or methodologies to address problems in cancer research.

All 23 new projects include elements of creativity, curiosity, investigation, exploration and opportunity. The projects were ranked according to their potential for “high reward” – to significantly impact our understanding of cancer and generate new approaches to combat the disease by introducing novel ideas into use or practice. As competition for grant funding increases worldwide, peer review panels have become more conservative and risk-averse, emphasizing feasibility more than innovation.

“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.”

It is hoped this grant program will accelerate the introduction of innovation into the entire cancer research system and contribute to the scientific idea pipeline. Grant budgets may be up to $100,000 per year and a maximum of $200,000 per grant. Funding is provided to support the direct costs of research, including supplies, salaries, and equipment associated with the proposed work.

A few of the other new Innovation projects:

Dr Janusz Rak, Montreal , $200,000 – Dr Rak is studying whether age affects the way patients respond to cancer treatments, which are designed to destroy blood vessels that feed tumours, known as anti‑angiogenic therapies. Using mice and samples from patients, the researchers will determine if age affects how tumour blood vessels react to a drug used to treat kidney cancer – sunitinib – to help understand why the drug works differently in adults and children, and what can be done to make the therapy more age‑appropriate and therefore more effective and safe.

Dr Maya Saleh, Montreal, $199,376 – Dr Saleh will use state‑of‑the‑art mouse models to identify new host genes that play a role in the spread of colorectal cancer cells. Using this approach Dr Saleh expects to uncover genes and mutations that could be targeted with treatments to manage colorectal cancer metastasis and improve patient outcomes.

Dr Goetz Ehrhardt, Toronto, $199,290 – Dr Ehrhardt is studying an ancient sea creature which may hold a key to the development of new tools to detect, diagnose and predict the outcome of multiple myeloma and other cancers. The antibodies of sea lampreys have a radically different protein architecture that allows them to recognize their targets with a high degree of specificity, a unique quality which may help in the development of these tools.

Dr Fei-Fei Liu, Toronto, $198,320 – Up to 40% of patients who receive radiation therapy experience fatigue but the reasons why this happens are not well understood. In this study involving women undergoing radiation therapy for breast cancer, Dr Liu will test her hypothesis that radiation changes the bone marrow, affecting the movement of blood stem cells and the production of different proteins that cross into the brain and cause fatigues symptoms.

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:

André Beaulieu

Spokesperson and Senior Advisor, Public Relations

Canadian Cancer Society

Quebec Division

Phone: (514) 393-3444