2015 Discovery Grants Announced

Auteur : Movember

Fourteen forward-thinking Canadian prostate cancer researchers have been rewarded for their innovation with Movember Discovery Grants, funded by the Movember Foundation through our friends at Prostate Cancer Canada (PCC). Each grant is worth up to $200,000 each.

Working out of a number of institutions across our country, the year’s recipients and their teams are working together across a large amount of areas, including new diagnostic biomarkers, treatment targets, and and economic analysis.

See below for each project and their aim:

Cheryl Helgason, BC Cancer Agency, Vancouver
Dr. Helgason’s work focuses on RNA (genetic material) that is not able to produce proteins, previously thought to be of little importance. Helgason’s team discovered one such RNA called PCAT18 is present at much higher levels in metastatic prostate cancer. They will now assess this RNA to determine whether disabling it blocks the growth of cancer cells, and whether measuring its presence can be used as a diagnostic tool to complement or replace PSA testing.

Julian Lum & Brad Nelson, BC Cancer Agency, Vancouver
Drs. Lum and Nelson and their team will focus on immunotherapy, where a patient’s immune system is trained to specifically target cancer cells. Often, the treatment for high-risk cases of prostate cancer is hormone therapy paired with radiation treatment. However, the team has discovered that only 30% of patients treated this way develop an immune response, and a surprising 71% of these patients have a shorter time to cancer relapse. This finding suggests that hormone therapy and radiation can lead to detrimental immune responses that may result in an earlier relapse. The team will explore the necessary question of how and why hormone and radiation therapy cause detrimental immune responses before treating patients with immunotherapies that may have unwanted outcomes.

Michel Tremblay, McGill University, Montréal
The development of prostate cancer is a complex process that is highly influenced by hormones such as androgens, and therefore much therapy focuses on androgen deprivation. Despite this, many advanced cancers develop that no longer rely on hormones for their growth. Dr. Tremblay’s team will explore new ways of treating androgen-dependent cancers before they become androgen-independent. They will examine a series of cancer-causing genes that are often multiplied in cancerous cells and are controlled by androgens in prostate cancer. Based on these findings, Dr. Tremblay’s team will work to determine whether these genetic mutations can identify whether a cancer will be aggressive, and they may also provide the basis for a new target in the treatment of advanced prostate cancer.    

Jian Hui Wu, Jewish General Hospital, Montréal
Immunotherapy has emerged as a therapeutic option for prostate cancer patients, whereby the immune system is stimulated to fight the prostate cancer cells. Dr. Wu and his team propose to develop new chemical compounds that can bring about this powerful immune response. STING is a protein structure that has already proven to bring about an aggressive anti-tumor response, and Dr. Wu’s team hopes to be able to promote this response in human patients. Currently, compounds that activate STING in mice are shown to have a dramatic antitumor effect, but the particular compound being used cannot activate human STING. Dr. Wu and his team will work to develop compounds to activate human STING and translate the findings from mice to men.

Roger Zemp, University of Alberta, Edmonton
Prostate cancer’s aggressiveness is difficult to assess accurately at an early stage, and there is a crucial need for the development of a test to predict how aggressive a patient’s prostate cancer may become. One approach is to measure circulating tumor cells (CTCs) from a patient’s blood. Dr. Zemp and his team are working on developing blood tests that use nanotechnology to zero in on blood-based biomarkers that can help make this crucial diagnosis as early and accurately as possible. Dr. Zemp’s work aims to complement or even replace the PSA test.

Gang Zheng, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Toronto
Microbubble technology is conventionally used in ultrasound imaging to detect differences between tissues. Dr. Zheng’s team has found that in tumors, a specific microbubble they have developed can be converted into nanoparticles that can kill cancer cells when activated with a special light source. Dr. Zheng’s team will use this novel concept to develop a treatment strategy specifically for patients whose prostate cancer has returned – but not spread – after radical radiation therapy.

Tommy Alain, Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario, Ottawa
A hallmark of cancer is when normal processes that regulate cell growth become dysregulated. Dr. Alain and his team are studying a genetic regulator called LARP1 that protects normal cells from becoming prostate cancer cells. By gaining a greater understanding into how this regulator blocks cells from growing uncontrollably in the first place, Dr. Alain aims to achieve new insight that can be used to design an innovative treatment strategy to prevent this from happening. This could potentially improve the effectiveness of future anti-cancer agents.

Alice Dragomir & Armen Aprikian, Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre, Montreal
Drs. Dragomir and Aprikian and their team will perform a comprehensive cost-effectiveness analysis of a number of new tests that have shown clinical promise in the areas of screening, diagnosis or treatment of prostate cancer, but are not routinely used in clinics either in Canada or abroad due to a lack of evidence around cost-effectiveness. By creating evidence regarding the cost-effectiveness of interventions, the team aims to inform decision-making and help increase access to new advances in prostate cancer detection and treatment.

Robert Hamilton, University Health Network, Toronto
Cancer prevention would eliminate the physical and emotional burden faced by patients and families, as well as the financial cost to the health care system. However, prostate cancer prevention is poorly understood. Dr. Hamilton and his team will closely examine 5-ARIs – drugs used to treat men with enlarged prostates – that may prevent prostate cancer. While there is evidence that shows this drug reduces prostate cancer risk, there is also evidence that shows that those who do develop prostate cancer while on the drug will develop a more aggressive form of the disease. By comparing the behaviour of prostate cancers in men who have taken the drug versus those who have not over time, Dr. Hamilton and his team will be able to either call into question the wisdom in using the drug for enlarged prostates, or recommend its use in preventing prostate cancer, depending on their findings.

Stanley Liu, Sunnybrook Research Institute, Toronto
Radiation therapy is a well-established treatment for prostate cancer. However, in almost one third of patients, the cancer can return. Dr. Liu’s team will focus on the role of microRNAs (fragments of genetic material) in cases of prostate cancer that become resistant to radiation therapy, often times becoming more aggressive in the process. By comparing biopsies of several patients both prior to receiving radiation and after the prostate cancer returned, the team will identify which microRNAs have become significantly altered. This will help determine which ones can predict whether a cancer will return, and which genes control them. The insights from this information will increase our knowledge of how microRNAs function in prostate cancer radiation resistance, and may identify which are useful as diagnostic biomarkers in patients.

Ivan Topisirovic, Jewish General Hospital, Montréal
The communication between cells located in two compartments of the prostate – the epithelium and the stroma – is important for its normal function, but can also influence the development and spread of prostate cancer. It is thought that this communication is, in part, why some men have aggressive cancers that progress quickly, and why some do not. To better understand the process of cancer development, Dr. Topisirovic’s team has designed an ‘artificial prostate’ to help understand how prostate compartments communicate, and to design tools to monitor and control this communication. This information could help us know when to postpone radical treatments in cases that are less aggressive, and may also help to block the communication to improve existing treatments in cases of advanced prostate cancer.  

Dominique Trudel, Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalier de l'Université de Montréal &
Frédéric Leblond, École Polytechnique de Montréal, Montréal

A prostate biopsy should provide information that informs treatment decisions. However, it has been found that there is often a discrepancy between what is detected by a biopsy and what is actually present in the prostate. Drs. Trudel and Leblond and their team seek to reduce the likelihood of an incorrect diagnosis due to the shortcomings inherent in biopsies by incorporating Raman spectroscopy into the diagnosis process. A technique using light signals, Raman spectroscopy will be explored for use as a supplementary test to increase the amount of information from a biopsy without the need to extract more tissue. This will provide a basis for improvements in the reliability of prostate biopsies, and thus better inform both the patient and physician of the cancer status in the prostate.

Franco Vizeacoumar, University Of Saskatchewan, Saskatoon
Despite the recent advances in the understanding of prostate cancer biology, there is still a lack of confirmed targets for drugs, particularly for advanced prostate cancer. Dr. Vizeacoumar’s team aims to employ a phenomenon known as "Synthetic Dosage Lethality", which is when a specific combination of mutations in two or more genes leads to cell death, provided that one of them is a genetic alteration that causes cancer. The team has identified several potential targets that, when triggered, may induce this phenomenon, resulting in cell death. If successful, this project will trigger new targeted therapies for prostate cancer.

Alexander Wyatt & Kim Chi, University of British Columbia, Vancouver
Many prostate cancers begin their growth dependent on hormones like androgen, but become androgen-independent in advanced stages. There are many new drugs for advanced stage prostate cancer, but many prostate cancers become resistant to them. Certain genetic changes may be able to predict a patient’s response to different treatments. Drs. Wyatt and Chi and their team will build upon their previous work in analyzing DNA from the blood of patients with prostate cancer that has become resistant to treatment in order to see if the presence or absence of genetic changes can predict if and how they will respond to treatment. This will help us understand why some cancers are drug-resistant, and will guide the development of a test to help select the best treatment for individual patients.

For more information around our prostate cancer funding, swing by our funded programs section here!