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Cancer and research: 10 reasons to give (2016)

Thanks to generous donors like you, the Canadian Cancer Society can support more cancer research than any other national charitable organization in Canada. In 2016, we invested $6.2 million in 76 projects in Quebec. In addition, over $11 million has already been committed for the next 5 years, particularly to the groundbreaking field of immunotherapy. Here’s an overview of the 10 most promising Quebec research projects in 2016.


1. Towards a better leukemia treatment

Cancer immunotherapy trains the body’s natural defense system – its immune system – to attack cancer cells while leaving healthy cells intact. Immune cells can be taught

to search for abnormal tags found only on cancer cells. Dr Claude Perreault and his

colleagues at l’Université de Montréal identified an unconventional class of tags that

could provide new targets for immunotherapy in leukemia. A promising clinical trial

has just been launched, which could facilitate and reinforce immunotherapy treatments.

2. Helping the immune system fight melanoma

Many cancers learn to hide from the immune system. At l’Université de Sherbrooke, Dr Subburaj Ilangumaran and his colleagues found that the immune system detected with greater ease melanoma cells with high levels of the protein NLRC5. This, in turn, impaired the cancer’s ability to grow and spread in the lab. This discovery suggests a new way to help the immune system fight off cancer and improve immunotherapy treatments.

Dr Jérôme Lavoué

3. Protecting workers from cancer

No one should get cancer from going to work. Nonetheless, some workers are exposed to cancer-causing substances on the job. Dr Jérôme Lavoué and his team from the Centre de recherche du CHUM created 4 online tools to assess exposure to these substances, including pesticides, cleaning chemicals and radiation. These new tools could help prevent cancer in high-risk groups and create safer workplaces.

Dc Arnim Pause

4. Discovery of a new tumour suppressor gene

Most cells in the body have two copies of every gene and, in order to prevent cancer, both are sometimes needed. At McGill University, Dr Arnim Pause and his group discovered a new tumour suppressor gene (called PTPN23). They also found that, in cancers, one copy of it is often deleted. This teaches us more about how cancer develops and could help researchers find new ways to diagnose and treat the disease.

5. Cancer treatments with fewer side effects

Patients need new targeted treatments that selectively destroy cancer cells and leave healthy cells alone. With the help of his McGill University team, Dr Jerry Pelletier might have found a way to do just that: suppressing the protein DHX9. In the lab, the prolonged absence of this protein killed many types of cancer cells without causing important side effects. This could lead to new cancer drugs that are more effective and less toxic to patients.


6. A better understanding of the HOX genes: important actors in cancer

A group of genes called HOX genes are linked to cancer, but how they work is not yet clear. Thanks to Dr Janetta Bijl and her team at l’Hôpital Maisonneuve- Rosemont, we now know blood cells without some HOX genes were unable to multiply and grow as well as normal

cells. Understanding the important role these genes play in healthy cells will provide insight into how abnormal HOX genes might be involved in cancer, and ultimately save more lives.

7. Predicting tumour response to personalize treatment

If the cell’s genetic material – the DNA – can be thought of as a blueprint, the proteins are the workers that carry out these instructions. Both play an important role in cancer. Dr Nahum Sonenberg and his McGill University team discovered a specific protein that plays a significant role in the effect of treatments currently used or studied. This could help predict which tumours will respond best to which drugs and improve personalized treatment in many cancer types.

8. A boost to the body’s natural defense system

Immunotherapy uses the body’s natural defence system to fight off cancer. This system includes “super cells”, which scan the body to find abnormal cells to destroy. Thanks to Dr André Veillette and his team at l’Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal, we now better understand how these “super cells” learn their trade. This new knowledge could help boost their activity, help researchers develop better immunotherapies and improve cancer survival rates.

9. The right treatment in the right place

Immunotherapy “teaches” immune cells how to attack tumours. However, this promising treatment is only effective if enough immune cells reach cancer cells. With his team at the CHUM research centre, Dr Réjean Lapointe has developed a gel that can direct and then release these “cell soldiers” close to a tumour. Fine-tuning this research will help get the maximum out of immunotherapy.

10. Fewer recurrences of childhood leukemia

Acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) is the most widespread cancer among children. Dr Trang Hoang and her team at Université de Montréal have observed that in the case of ALL, some cancer cells are 10 to 20 times more resistant to chemotherapy than others. This may explain the recurrence of the disease in spite of treatments. Fortunately, these researchers have also identified a substance that may eliminate cells which are particularly resistant.

Make a donation for research today to enable researchers to continue their work. You’re perhaps not behind the microscope, but your role is just as important. You fund innovation. You save lives.



Dr Connie Eaves Tracking how stem cells grow

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