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Cancer research pioneers celebrated for their achievements at cancer conference

05 November 2013

Toronto -

Congratulations to Drs John Dick and Victor Ling who have been honoured by the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance (CCRA) with awards for their pioneering contributions to cancer research.

Dr Dick has received the Award for Outstanding Achievements in Cancer Research and Dr. Ling has received the Award for Exceptional Leadership in Cancer Research.

The roots of cancer

Dr Dick is a research pioneer in the area of stem cell research.

Cancer stem cells are a small number of cells which cause cancer to grow. They lie in wait, resisting treatment and then spawn a new round of malignant offspring. The discovery of cancer stem cells helps explain the high rates of recurrence of some cancers.

In 1994, Dr Dick sparked a revolution in the understanding of how cancer stem cells function. He and his research team were the first to identify cancer stem cells in certain types of human leukemia.

Among other notable discoveries, Dr Dick and his research team in Toronto:

  • found that colon cancer originates from a rare type of colon cancer stem cell, laying the groundwork for the development of treatments that target and kill these cells
  • developed a drug, in lab experiments, that can target and destroy the stem cells that cause leukemia
  • showed that the genetic characteristics of leukemia-initiating cells from acute myeloid leukemia (AML) patients are better at predicting clinical outcome than the majority of AML cells

Currently, Dr Dick is a senior scientist at Toronto’s University Health Network, a professor of molecular genetics at the University of Toronto and a director of the program in cancer stem cells at the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research.

Over the last 2 decades, Dr Dick has received close to $3 million in funding for cancer research from the Canadian Cancer Society.

Why cancer cells become resistant

Dr Ling is best known for his discovery P-glycoprotein, which sits on the surface of cancer cells and flushes out the anti-cancer drug before it has a chance to work, making cancer cells resistant to chemotherapy. Dr Ling observed that tumour cells had the ability of exploit this protein, which normally protects cells from toxic substances in the environment. Later research found that P-glycoprotein’s effects could be avoided in certain patients by giving them the drug cyclosporin.

As the name of the CCRA award suggests, Dr Ling has been an outstanding leader and mentor. He is the founding scientific director of the Terry Fox Research Institute. Previously, he served as vice-president of research at the British Columbia Cancer Agency, at which time he helped launch the Genome Sciences Centre. He has also served on numerous national and international boards and committees for cancer research.

Currently, Dr Ling is the assistant dean of cancer research at the University of British Columbia's faculty of medicine, as well as professor in the departments of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and pathology and laboratory medicine.

Dr Ling has received close to $3 million in cancer research funding from the Canadian Cancer Society.