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

29 February 2012

Toronto -

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 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.

Dr Christopher Loewen, Vancouver, $200,000 – Tumours may grow and spread as a result of changes in metabolism, including acidity levels in the body. Dr Loewen is using a simple organism, yeast, to study biosensors that monitor acidity and regulate the genes that control tumour growth, with the goal of better understanding the metabolic changes that can occur in human cancers, which may lead to the identification of new treatment targets and the development of new drugs.

Dr Tamra Werbowetski-Ogilvie, Winnipeg, $179,835 – Medulloblastoma, a devastating pediatric brain tumour, leaves affected children with permanent neurological side effects and a high incidence of recurrence following harsh treatments. In this project, Dr Werbowestski-Ogilvie is studying whether the Otx2 gene, which is involved in brain development, may contribute to the earliest stages of medulloblastoma, possibly making it a critical target to identify and treat brain tumours before they develop multiple genetic changes and spread.

The Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) is the only national charity that supports Canadians with all cancers in communities across the country. No other organization does what we do; we are the voice for Canadians who care about cancer. We fund groundbreaking research, provide a support system for all those affected by cancer and advocate to governments for important social change.

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For more information, please contact:

Christine Harminc

Senior Manager, Communications & Media Relations

Canadian Cancer Society

Phone: 416 934-5340