Top 10 Canadian Cancer Society-funded research stories of 2010

01 January 2011

January 2011 – Canadian Cancer Society-funded researchers continue to discover ways to reduce cancer incidence and mortality and enhance the quality of life for Canadians living with and beyond cancer. Here are the top 10 research stories of 2010.

1. Shorter course of radiation effective for some breast cancer patients

A clinical trial led by Dr Timothy Whelan in Hamilton found that a shorter, three-week course of higher-dose radiation may be just as effective as the standard five-week course for women with early-stage disease. The shorter, more intense, therapy provides a more convenient option for patients, which lessens the burden of treatment and improves their quality of life. The study was funded in part by the Canadian Cancer Society. This discovery was recognized by the American Society of Clinical Oncology as one of the world’s most important cancer treatment breakthroughs in 2010.

Reference: The New England Journal of Medicine, February, 2010

2. Scientists convert skin into blood cells, heralding potential new stem cell source

Dr Mick Bhatia led a research team in Hamilton that directly converted human skin cells into different types of blood cells, a breakthrough that could benefit cancer patients who need bone marrow transplants. Specifically, this discovery could provide the advantages of a self transplant, eliminating matching problems or risk of rejection, and bypass the risk of transplanting stem cells that carry the same mutation that caused the original tumour.

Reference: Nature, November 2010

3. Researchers discover new types of childhood brain cancer

A study led by Dr Michael Taylor in Toronto discovered that medulloblastoma, the most common malignant form of childhood brain cancer, is not one but four different diseases, each with its own molecular composition and clinical characteristics. These findings could lead to more personalized, targeted treatments for each form of the disease and allow some patients to avoid the long-lasting side-effects of aggressive treatment, including brain damage from radiation.

Reference: Journal of Clinical Oncology, September 2010

4. Combined therapy best treatment for aggressive prostate cancer

New findings from a clinical trial found that a combination of radiation and hormone therapy helps men with aggressive prostate cancer live longer, a finding that could change clinical practice worldwide. Previously, most clinicians thought that patients with locally advanced prostate cancer should be treated with hormone therapy alone. These results show that many of these patients could also benefit from radiation therapy. The trial, led by Dr Padraig Warde in Toronto, was coordinated by the NCIC Clinical Trials Group (CTG) and the Medical Research Council in the United Kingdom. The CTG is funded by the Canadian Cancer Society.

Reference: Journal of Clinical Oncology, June 2010

5. Cracking the hidden genetic code

In a study led by Canadian Cancer Society funded-researcher Dr Benjamin Blencowe and his colleague Dr Brendan Frey, both at the University of Toronto, a second genetic code, referred to as the RNA splicing code, was identified that will enable scientists to better understand the complex genetic activities that lead to cancer and better interpret the messages held within any gene in any type of cell in our body. This groundbreaking study fills the gap between knowledge of the human genome and the resulting complex activities that take place in the body’s cells. Cracking this code could one day help predict or prevent diseases such as cancer.

Reference: Nature, May 2010 

6. Study zeroes in on those who can benefit most from lung cancer treatment

For the first time, a research team in Toronto led by Dr Ming Sound Tsao identified a set of genes that can predict whether patients with early-stage non-small cell lung cancer will benefit from chemotherapy after surgery to prevent disease recurrence. Not all patients require chemotherapy after surgery and not all patients benefit. Knowing that a patient may have a more aggressive cancer and that their chance of cure may be improved with adjuvant chemotherapy gives patients and their doctors a clearer picture of the need for treatment after surgery. The study was funded in part by the Canadian Cancer Society.

Reference: Journal of Clinical Oncology, September 2010

7. Common virus may yield new treatment for prostate cancer

In Calgary, Dr Peter Forsyth was part of a research team that successfully tested a new way of treating prostate cancer in a small number of men using a harmless virus called reovirus. Previous studies have shown that reovirus targets cancerous cells and leaves healthy cells alone. In the recent study the researchers injected the reovirus in six prostate cancer patients, as well as studying it in mice models and lab experiments. The virus destroyed a number of cancer cells and replicated to attack more cancer cells, but did not affect normal cells.

Reference: Cancer Research, March 2010

8. Changing the standard of care for rare childhood brain cancer

Dr David Malkin and his research team in Toronto identified a genetic mutation that plays a major role in the outcome of a rare pediatric brain cancer (choroid plexus carcinoma). The finding means that radiation treatment is not necessary for some young patients, who can be spared its devastating side-effects. Testing for the presence of the TP53 mutation can determine the most appropriate therapy for the patient.

Reference: Journal of Clinical Oncology, April 2010

9. Childhood cancer survivors have higher odds of hospitalization

Findings from a unique study evaluating the long-term physical and psychological impact of childhood cancer treatment show that childhood cancer survivors have higher odds of hospitalization, more admissions and longer hospital stays. In addition to earlier findings, the study provides crucial information for planning and providing the necessary post-treatment support to childhood cancer survivors. The study, funded by the Society, is led by Mary McBride in Vancouver.

Reference: European Journal of Cancer, September 2010

10. Breast cancer incidence drop linked to decline in use of HRT

A Canadian Cancer Society study showed that a significant drop in breast cancer incidence among post-menopausal women from 2002 to 2004 coincided with a sharp drop in the use of hormone replacement therapy (HRT) during the same period. This is the first study to show the link between HRT use and breast cancer among Canadian women. The findings provide important information to women and their health care providers about how to reduce their risk of breast cancer.

Reference: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, September 2010

Honourary mentions

Canadian Cancer Society funded researchers among the best in Canada: study

Researchers funded by the Canadian Cancer Society are making a bigger scientific impact than other researchers in Canada. The study, an evaluation of the Society’s research grants program, found that researchers funded by the Society publish more papers, publish these papers in the most prestigious scientific journals and are referenced more often by other researchers.

Reference: American Journal of Evaluation, January 2010

Society-funded researchers honoured

In 2010, scientists funded by the Society received major national awards recognizing their research achievements:

  • Dr Daniel Durocher was named one of Canada’s Top 40 under 40, an award presented annually to young leaders of today and tomorrow. The award is in recognition of Dr Durocher’s tremendous research accomplishments and his impact on Canada’s biomedical community. Dr Durocher is the Lunenfeld Senior Investigator and the Thomas Kierans Research Chair in Mechanisms of Cancer Development of Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital.
  • Dr David Hammond received Canada's Premier Young Researcher Award from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for his work in the area of cigarette labelling and how it can be used to influence behaviour. Dr Hammond is an assistant professor in health studies and gerontology at the University of Waterloo.
  • Dr Jeff Wrana was one of the recipients of the Premier’s Summit Award (Ontario), which recognizes researchers who are international leaders and whose work has transformed their fields. Dr Wrana’s research, which focuses on the communication pathways of cells, has opened entirely new ways of thinking when it comes to fighting cancer and has led to new treatments that take advantage intracellular communications. Dr Wrana is a senior investigator at Toronto’s Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital.