New partnership invests $5 million in brain cancer research

04 February 2015

Brain cancer needs more brainpower. It is estimated that almost 3,000 Canadians will be diagnosed with the disease this year. They face tough odds, with a 5-year relative survival rate for adults of just 25%.  The prognosis is better for children: about 75% of the approximately 170 children diagnosed each year will survive past 5 years. However, intensive treatment can leave them with life-long effects, such as developmental delays and learning disabilities.

We need to do more to unravel this complex disease. That’s why we’ve partnered with Brain Canada to create a new platform for brain cancer research funding. This partnership leverages donations made to the Canadian Cancer Society with matching funds from Brain Canada through the Canada Brain Research Fund, a public-private partnership established by the Government of Canada, enabling funding of more brain cancer research.

Thanks to this partnership, and to the support of donors coast to coast, the following 4 Impact Grants in brain cancer research were awarded on February 4, 2015.

Dr Poul Sorensen

Therapeutic targeting of neural tumours
In children, medulloblastoma (a form of brain cancer) and neuroblastoma (a cancer that starts in the nerve cells) can be aggressive and hard to treat. Dr Poul Sorensen, a pathologist and professor at Vancouver’s University of British Columbia and Senior Scientist at the BC Cancer Agency Research Centre, is targeting what he believes is the Achilles heel of tumour cells: namely, how they adapt and survive under stress. He has discovered that an enzyme called eEF2K helps cancer cells cope with stress and resist treatment. In this project, Dr Sorensen and his team will determine how eEF2K protects brain tumour cells under stress and test whether blocking the enzyme will make cancer cells sensitive to therapy. This work could lead to more effective and targeted treatment options for childhood brain and neural cancers.

Dr David Stojdl

Virus could boost patient’s immune system

Glioblastoma multiforme is a fast-growing tumour and the most common malignant brain cancer in adults. Dr David Stojdl, a Senior Scientist at Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario Research Institute in Ottawa, is designing a new treatment to combat this disease. He is a world expert in the field of oncolytic viruses, programmable viruses that target and kill cancer cells, as well as stimulate the immune system. However, cancer cells have proven expert at “hiding” from the immune system. Dr Stojdl has designed an oncolytic virus specifically for the treatment of glioblastoma multiforme. With this Impact Grant, he and his team will boost the virus’ ability to stimulate the patient’s immune system. If successful, this could vastly improve the outlook for glioblastoma patients.

Dr Uri Tabori

DNA discovery could lead to early detection

Cancer can exhibit relentless growth and relapse because of the enhanced protection of its chromosome ends. Dr Uri Tabori, an oncologist and Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children, is a world expert in telomeres – the protective caps at the ends of DNA. He has discovered that telomeres are maintained by a section of DNA called THOR. In this project, he and his team will test whether detecting THOR in a simple blood or urine test could detect cancer early and predict relapse and survival, as well as identifying new drugs to prevent relapse. This important research could lead to new diagnostic and treatment strategies with a focus on brain, prostate and bladder cancer.

Dr Michael Taylor

Helping children avoid life-long treatment effects

Children diagnosed with medulloblastoma – the most common childhood brain cancer – are often left with long-term effects from the intensive treatment. Dr Michael Taylor, a pediatric neurosurgeon and Senior Scientist at The Hospital for Sick Children, previously discovered that medulloblastoma is not one disease, but four, each with a different genetic footprint. Now, Dr Taylor aims to identify a way to predict the aggressiveness of these different cancer subtypes. He has gathered an unprecedented collection of tumour samples from 80 cities around the world. He and his team will study how different medulloblastomas vary from one another and how each tumour changes in response to treatment. This important work will help identify which children have high-risk cancers requiring the most aggressive treatments, versus those that can receive a gentler treatment regimen. Dr Taylor holds the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada Impact Grant of the Canadian Cancer Society and Brain Canada.

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