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Research awards

The Canadian Cancer Society promotes and recognizes excellence and outstanding achievements in cancer research.

Since 1993, we have acknowledged some of the country’s best researchers with our Canadian Cancer Society Awards for Excellence. We are proud to honour these talented individuals who have played a key role in the advancement of cancer research.

These individuals have made rich and meaningful contributions, whether in advancing biomedical cancer research or conducting research that has made a major impact on cancer control in Canada. Congratulations to all our award winners!  

Robert L. Noble Prize

The Robert L. Noble Prize is given for outstanding achievements in basic biomedical cancer research. It honours Dr Noble, an esteemed Canadian investigator whose research in the 1950s led to the discovery of vinblastine, a widely used anticancer drug. At the time, vinblastine was one of the most effective treatments available for Hodgkin lymphoma.

The award comes with a $20,000 contribution to the recipient’s research program.

Dr Pamela Ohashi, 2018 recipient

Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto

Dr P OhashiDr Pamela Ohashi is a world-renowned leader in cancer immunology, an area of research that focuses on the role of the immune system in the development and progression of cancer. Her work has shaped our understanding of how the immune system reacts to tumours and how we can harness that potential to treat the disease.

Dr Ohashi’s research centres on T cells, a type of white blood cell that plays a critical role in immunity. Most T cells are trained to recognize threats that are foreign to the body such as bacteria and viruses. Some, however, respond to the body’s own tissues and cells. Dr Ohashi was the first to show that these self-reactive T-cells can persist in the body in an ignorant state that prevents them from wrecking havoc on their own tissues. When activated, however, they can destroy tissues and lead to autoimmune diseases.

This was the first of many groundbreaking discoveries that Dr Ohashi made in T cell biology and paved the way for her work on immunotherapy. She showed that the presence of a tumour could wake ignorant T cells and that once awake, they could be used to keep the tumour in check.

Dr Ohashi serves as the Director of the Tumour Immunotherapy Program at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (PMCC). Under her leadership, PMCC became the first site in Canada to offer immunotherapy clinical trials using adoptive cell therapy. In this approach, a patient’s own white blood cells are taken out, modified in the lab to enhance their cancer-fighting ability and then given back to the patient.

Dr Ohashi is also a fierce advocate of immunotherapy research in Canada, having co-founded the Canadian Cancer Immunotherapy Consortium. She is exceptional in her ability to forge alliances and collaborations that drive progress forward and elevate Canadian research on the world stage. She continues to work tirelessly to bring immunotherapy clinical trials to PMCC, offering hope to patients with cancer.

O. Harold Warwick Prize

The O. Harold Warwick Prize is given for outstanding achievements in cancer control research. It honours Dr Warwick, a pioneering researcher in cancer control and treatment, and the first executive director of the former National Cancer Institute of Canada and the Canadian Cancer Society.

The award comes with a $20,000 contribution to the recipient’s research program.

Dr J. Gregory Cairncross, 2018 co-recipient

University of Calgary, Calgary

Dr G J CairncrossDr J. Gregory Cairncross is an international expert in brain cancer research whose work has had significant and lasting impact on how this disease is treated and studied.

In 1988, Dr Cairncross was the first to discover that oligodendrogliomas, a type of brain cancer that accounts for roughly 20% of all primary brain tumours, could be treated effectively with chemotherapy and that a specific genetic abnormality in these brain tumours predicts whether they will respond to chemotherapy. This breakthrough finding was the first time that a predictive marker had been found in brain cancer. Dr Cairncross later led a clinical trial which showed that chemotherapy combined with radiation doubled the survival of oligodendroglioma patients with this genetic abnormality. Today, patients diagnosed with this brain tumour are routinely tested for the genetic marker that Dr Cairncoss discovered to create a personalized treatment plan.

Dr Cairncross also played a pivotal role in establishing the current standard of care for glioblastomas, the most common type of primary brain tumour. In the late 1990s, he led an international clinical trial that demonstrated that radiation combined with chemotherapy was an effective treatment for glioblastomas.

His work has also led to the rigorous criteria about how brain cancer clinical trials should be conducted and evaluated. These criteria were adopted internationally and ensured that all brain cancer trials were carried out and assessed with the highest standards. Indeed, Dr Cairncross’ paper detailing these criteria remain one of the most important and frequently cited studies in the history of brain cancer research.

Dr Cairncross is widely recognized as an exceptional mentor who has shaped the careers of nearly all neuro-oncologists in Canada and many more abroad. He is a true visionary whose innovative ideas and collaborative spirit have placed Canada at the forefront of brain cancer research worldwide.

Dr Kerry Courneya, 2018 co-recipient

University of Alberta, Edmonton

Dr K CourneyaDr Kerry Courneya is a leader and a pioneer in the field of exercise oncology, which looks at the impact of physical activity on cancer control and survivorship. His research centres on how exercise can help patients prepare for treatments, cope with symptoms and side effects, recover after treatments and live longer.

Among his many published works, Dr Courneya is best known for his seminal studies showing that exercise improves the quality of life in breast and colorectal cancer survivors. The trials he led were the first to show that exercise during chemotherapy can boost treatment completion rates among patients with breast cancer and that exercise after treatment led to greater happiness and self-esteem and a higher quality of life in survivors. His work later showed that women who exercised during their chemotherapy had higher survival rates than those who did not.

In the first clinical trial on exercise and quality of life in colorectal cancer survivors, Dr Courneya showed that an improvement in physical fitness also led to reduced anxiety and depression and greater satisfaction with life. He is now leading a highly-anticipated trial that looks at whether an exercise program can increase survival and prevent cancer relapse in patients with high risk colon cancer.

Dr Courneya’s work has led to new evidence-based physical activity guidelines for cancer survivors. Thanks to his research, patients now receive counselling on exercise, healthy eating and weight management at diagnosis and throughout their cancer journey, enabling them to live longer, fuller lives.

William E. Rawls Prize

The William E. Rawls Prize is given to a young investigator whose outstanding contributions have the potential to lead to, or have already led to important advances in cancer control. It honours Dr Rawls, past president of the former National Cancer Institute of Canada. His research focused on viruses, particularly those involved in chronic diseases and cervical cancer.

The award comes with a $20,000 contribution to the recipient’s research program. 

Dr Rodger Tiedemann, 2018 co-recipient

Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto

Dr R TiedemannDr Rodger Tiedemann is a rising star in multiple myeloma research. He is working towards new therapeutic strategies based on the cancer’s genetic vulnerabilities.

Multiple myeloma is a cancer that starts in a type of white blood cell called plasma cells. Despite recent advances in treatment, it remains incurable with nearly 1,300 Canadians dying of the disease each year. Through his work, Dr Tiedemann has identified several new targets that had never been considered before for myeloma treatment. Other groups, including pharmaceutical companies, are now actively developing new therapeutics for multiple myeloma based on his findings.

In a breakthrough study, Dr Tiedemann demonstrated the existence of a population of atypical plasma cells that allow multiple myeloma to become resistant to a key chemotherapy drug. He showed that the drug worked by killing the most developed plasma cells while leaving behind an abnormal group of resistant immature cells. After the treatment, these resistant cells grow and take over the tumour, making it impervious to the drug. This finding settled nearly 20 years of controversy about how treatment resistance arises in multiple myeloma and provided important insights for new strategies to overcome resistance.

Dr Tiedemann is now using his expertise and experience to conduct large-scale genetic studies to identify genes that are crucial to the survival of myeloma tumour cells. He is also searching for genes that can make tumours more sensitive to existing chemotherapies and ways of targeting these genes to create more effective combination therapies for patients with this deadly disease.

Dr Gelareh Zadeh, 2018 co-recipient

Toronto Western Hospital, University Health Network, Toronto

Dr G ZadehDr Gelareh Zadeh is a neurosurgeon and scientist whom her colleagues describe as on a meteoric rise to the top. Her clinical practice and research focus on brain tumours, specifically glioblastomas, meningiomas and Schwannomas.

In a landmark study published in 2016, Dr Zadeh led a massive research effort to analyze the genetic landscape of Schwannoma, a tumour that arises from the tissue covering nerves. These poorly-understood tumours are usually benign but can cause nerve damage and loss of muscle control. Her work identified a number of genetic changes associated with Schwannomas and a unique genetic feature present in 10% of these tumours. Building on this work, she is now testing drugs to target this genetic marker, paving the way for precision medicine approaches for these patients.

In a second key study published in 2017, Dr Zadeh examined the genetic and molecular features of meningiomas caused by radiation. Meningiomas are tumours that form on the thin tissue covering the brain. Children with brain tumours who are treated with radiation may develop meningiomas later on as a result of DNA damage caused by the radiation treatment. Dr Zadeh showed that the genetic changes in radiation-induced meningiomas are different from those found in meningiomas that arise spontaneously. Her findings suggest that targeted strategies based on the underlying suite of genetic changes will be more effective in treating meningiomas.

Dr Zadeh is also an outstanding teacher and mentor who is passionate about engaging students and nurturing future leaders in the field. Her dedication to her patients, research and the next generation of clinicians and scientists is creating lasting impact that will improve the lives of those affected by brain cancer. 

Bernard and Francine Dorval Prize

The Bernard and Francine Dorval Prize is given to a young investigator whose outstanding contributions to basic biomedical research have the potential to lead, or have already led to improved understanding of cancer treatments and/or cures. It honours Bernard and Francine Dorval, whose longstanding support of the Society has helped to raise more than two million dollars in support of Society-funded research, policy work and programs.

This award comes with a $20,000 contribution to the recipient’s research program.

Dr Paul Boutros, 2018 recipient

Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Toronto

Dr P BoutrosDr Paul Boutros is described by his colleagues as a superstar in his field. In less than 10 years of being an independent investigator, he has already made significant advances in cancer diagnosis and our understanding of how the disease starts and progresses in multiple cancer types including breast, lung and prostate.

His research in the field of bioinformatics uses powerful computer and software tools to sift through vast amounts of biological data from patient samples to uncover new genetic features linked to whether a tumour responds to a drug or how well a patient fares. He collaborates with clinical partners around the world to turn these unique genetic signatures into new clinical tests that can improve cancer diagnosis and prognosis. His discovery of markers that predict drug response will help guide the creation of personalized therapies for individual patients, making treatments safer and more effective.

Dr Boutros is also the bioinformatics lead for the Canadian Prostate Cancer Genome Network, a team of researchers across Canada working to crack the genetic code of prostate cancer. Together with his collaborators, he has identified new genes that are linked to aggressive prostate cancers and that drive cancer progression. His work has led to several high-impact publications in prestigious scientific journals.

Dr Boutros is recognized not only as a talented scientist, but also as an enthusiastic collaborator and gifted communicator. He is able to engage with researchers across multiple disciplines to answer some of the most pressing questions in cancer research. His commitment to improving clinical practice and developing personalized treatments is evident through his work, which is poised to accelerate progress to a world where no one fears cancer.

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