Top 10 Canadian Cancer Society research of 2012

20 December 2012

Toronto -

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 2012.

1. Decoding a deadly form of breast cancer will lead to more personalized treatments

For the first time, an international team of scientists decoded the complex genetic makeup of triple negative breast cancer, a hard-to-treat form of the disease. Dr Sam Aparicio in Vancouver led the study, which found a wide variety of mutations in patients, making an important step towards better understanding this deadly form of breast cancer. Knowing more about the genes involved could change the way the disease is diagnosed and form the basis for the next generation of treatments.

Reference: Nature, April 2012

2. MAGIC team finds new ways to treat malignant childhood brain cancer

Dr Michael Taylor in Toronto was part of the international MAGIC team of experts – short for Medulloblastoma Advanced Genomics International Consortium – which identified several genetic abnormalities that lead to the development of the malignant brain tumour medulloblastoma. This research has identified a number of genetic targets for more effective treatments and may spare some children the side effects of unnecessary radiation.

Reference: Nature, July 2012

3. Improving survival for patients with rare form of pancreatic cancer

An NCIC Clinical Trials Group study found that patients with a rare form of pancreatic cancer – periampullary adenocarcinoma – live longer if they are treated with surgery plus chemotherapy. This finding is an important step towards improving typically poor survival rates for pancreatic cancer patients.

Reference: Journal of the American Medical Association , July 2012

4. Trial finds Hodgkin lymphoma patients live longer with chemotherapy alone

A trial led by the NCIC Clinical Trials Group found that patients with limited-stage Hodgkin lymphoma live longer when treated with standard chemotherapy compared with those also receiving radiation. The findings mean that these patients can be effectively treated for their cancer while avoiding the long-term side effects of radiation.

Reference: The New England Journal of Medicine, December 2011

5. Barriers delay referral to palliative care

A study led by Dr Camilla Zimmermann in Toronto found that Canadian oncologists refer terminally ill cancer patients to palliative care too late, often in the last few months of life and sometimes not until the final few days. The availability and comprehensiveness of palliative care services were identified as key barriers. Referring patients earlier allows care teams to relieve symptoms and distress, provide appropriate social services, and give advanced care advice to improve the quality of life of cancer patients and their families.

Reference: Journal of Clinical Oncology, October 2012

6. Natural sea sponge product prevents cancer-induced muscle wasting

Dr Imed Gallouzi and his research team in Montreal found that a natural product from sea sponges prevents muscle wasting in mice. Cancer patients suffering from muscle wasting, or “cachexia”, experience a lower quality of life and often an earlier death. In fact, approximately 30% of people with cancer die due to muscle wasting. The researchers found that the natural product known as pateamine A can be used at low doses to not only prevent muscle loss, but also stop muscle wasting that has already begun. This study is the first to show a potential treatment option for those affected with tumour-induced cachexia.

Reference: Nature Communications, June 2012

7. Study shows drug destroys human cancer stem cells but spares healthy ones

Dr Mick Bhatia, an international leader in cancer stem cell research, discovered that the drug thioridazine, currently used as an antipsychotic, successfully kills the cancer stem cells responsible for initiating leukemias without harming normal stem cells. Cancer stem cells can sustain the growth of cancer and may also be implicated in cancer recurrence after treatment. Researchers aim to test the drug in clinical trials, focusing on patients with acute myeloid leukemia whose disease has relapsed after chemotherapy.

Reference: Cell, June 2012

8. Developing smarter treatments for rare young adult cancer

Dr Torsten Nielsen and his research team in Vancouver have unravelled how the genetic mutation which leads to the growth of synovial sarcoma, interacts with proteins in the cell to cause cancer. Synovial sarcoma is a rare and often fatal form of cancer most commonly occurring in the limbs of young adults. The researchers found that drugs or genetic inhibitors used to suppress these proteins can kill tumour cells, which will help researchers develop more targeted treatments.

Reference: Cell, March 2012

9. Vitamin D controls proteins to stop cancer development and growth

Focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms behind vitamin D’s cancer fighting abilities, Dr John White and his research group in Montreal studied the cMYC protein, which is elevated in at least 50% of cancers. The researchers found many ways that vitamin D can block cMYC in human cells. The findings add to the growing evidence around vitamin D and cancer and will spark future studies to understand its role in stopping cancer development and growth.

Reference: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, November 2012

10. Drug shows promise in fighting acute myeloid leukemia

Acute myeloid leukemia (AML) is a cancer of the blood and bone marrow that can become very aggressive if not treated quickly. Dr Aaron Schimmer and colleagues in Toronto tested several drugs that are already approved for other conditions to determine whether any of them could also target AML cells. The researchers found that the antimalarial agent mefloquine specifically causes AML cancer cells to burst, uncovering a potential new therapeutic strategy for these leukemias.

Reference: The Journal of Clinical Investigation, December 2012

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Canadian Cancer Society

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