skip to main content
News and Events
  • TFRI's 2017 ASM meeting date, location

    by TFRI Editor | Sep 27, 2016

    In 2017,TFRI will hold its Annual Scientific Meeting on Saturday, November 4th to coincide with the national meeting of the Canadian Cancer Research Conference in Vancouver (Nov. 5-7th). Stay tuned for more details.

    Photo below: TFRI researchers and trainees gathered in Vancouver in May 2016 for our 7th Annual Scientific Meeting.

    2016 ASM group shot


    by TFRI Editor | Sep 07, 2016

     Six stellar TFRI research teams will use $27.3 million to engineer precision medicine across a range of cancers


    Wednesday, Sept 7, 2016


    Attention Editors:

    > The Terry Fox Run is being held on Sunday, Sept. 18th
    The brain cancer project will focus on new treatments for glioblastoma (The Tragically Hip’s Gord Downie announced in May he has this cancer)

    Vancouver, BC – Six outstanding Canadian research teams will use $27.3 million in new funding to engineer precision medicines for patients whose cancer has relapsed or for whom current treatments are ineffective or non-existent.

    The Terry Fox Research Institute teams are conducting research into brain, colorectal, prostate, breast and ovarian cancers and lymphoma at research centres and hospitals across the country. Some studies will include undertaking trials for immunotherapy -- using the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells.

    The majority of the funding ($26.1 million) is being provided by The Terry Fox Foundation through funds raised annually from the Terry Fox Run. National funding partner, The Canadian Institutes of Health Research, is contributing $1.2 million to co-invest in the project with the goal of finding more effective treatment for a hard-to-treat breast cancer called triple negative breast cancer.

    “We thank the Terry Fox Foundation and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research for making these investments possible.  Our shared goal is to provide cancer patients with the right remedy for the right cancer at the right time – so precision medicine will help us to find more cures for cancer.  The projects being funded today are judged by international experts as being excellent, leading-edge and having the best potential for us to achieve this goal,” says Dr. Victor Ling, TFRI president and scientific director.

    “We are delighted to see our supporter funds invested across such a range of cancers since Terry Fox believed in funding all types of cancer research. We hope Canadians will continue to show their support for Terry’s cause and cancer research on Sunday, September 18 by participating in and donating to a Terry Fox Run in their community,” said Terry Fox Foundation executive director Britt Andersen. The Terry Fox Run will be held on Sunday, September 18.

    The Terry Fox New Frontiers Program Project Grants (PPGs) and Translational Research Programs are highly competitive. Following international peer review, funds are awarded annually to teams of investigators to support breakthrough and transformative biomedical research which may form the basis for innovative cancer prevention, diagnosis and/or treatment. See below the investment breakdown by project and province:

    PAN CANADIAN (Ontario, Quebec, British Columbia and Alberta)

    Dr. Pamela Ohashi, director, immune therapy program, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network (UHN), and colleagues will develop immunotherapies and undertake clinical trials through The Immunotherapy Network to improve survival for women diagnosed with high-grade serous ovarian cancer, the deadliest of the ovarian cancers. (Award: $5.41M over 5 years)


    Awards of  $2.25 M each over 3 years:

    Dr. Mathieu Lupiensenior scientist and oncologist and colleagues at UHN (Toronto), will focus on effective therapies, including immunotherapy, to improve treatments available to women with triple negative breast cancer. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research is funding 50 per cent of this award.

     Dr. Sheila Singhpediatric neurosurgeon at McMaster University (Hamilton), and colleagues at the University of Toronto, will study glioblastoma multiforme (brain cancer) in its recurrent and relapsed form, rather than the original tumour (s), to  develop new and effective treatments to improve survival

    Dr. Jeff Wrana
    senior investigator at the Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Sinai Health System and co-investigators there and at the U of T (Toronto), will study how an important body mechanism, the Hippo Pathway, is inactivated, thus enabling abnormal tissue growth, and ways to reactivate it. Their work will focus on colorectal cancer using unique “mini-gut” models


    Awards of $7.5 M each over 5 years:

    Dr. Joseph Connors, clinical director at the Centre for Lymphoid Cancer, BC Cancer Agency (Vancouver), and colleagues (University of British Columbia, BC Cancer Agency, and Simon Fraser University ) will continue novel and innovative research in lymphoma and related cancers to provide new tests and treatments that will benefit those patients

    Dr. Martin Gleave
    executive director, Vancouver Prostate Centre (VPC), and team members (VPC, UBC, and SFU), to continue world-class research to provide new treatments for men whose prostate cancer has become resistant to current therapies.

     Quotes from Funding Partners

    “CIHR is pleased to partner with the Terry Fox Research Institute and theTerry Fox Foundation and support Dr. Mathieu Lupien and his team at the University Health Network. Dr. Lupien’s research project showcases Canadian leadership in immunology, genomics and epigenetics and, ultimately, will lead to new treatments to extend survival and quality of life for women diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer,” said Dr. Stephen Robbins, Scientific Director of the CIHR Institute of Cancer Research.

     About TFRI

    Launched in October 2007, The Terry Fox Research Institute is the brainchild of The Terry Fox Foundation and today functions as its research arm. TFRI seeks to improve significantly the outcomes of cancer research for the patient through a highly collaborative, team-oriented, milestone-based approach to research that will enable discoveries to translate quickly into practical solutions for cancer patients worldwide. TFRI collaborates with over 70 cancer hospitals and research organizations across Canada. TFRI headquarters are in Vancouver, BC. www.tfri.ca


    About CIHR 

    The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is the Government of Canada's health research investment agency. CIHR's mission is to create new scientific knowledge and to enable its translation into improved health, more effective health services and products, and a strengthened health care system for Canadians. Composed of 13 Institutes, CIHR provides leadership and support to more than 13,000 health researchers and trainees across Canada. http://www.cihr-irsc.gc.ca/


    For more information contact:


    Kelly Curwin, Chief Communications Officer
    Terry Fox Research Institute
    Vancouver BC

    Office: 604-675-8223
    Cell: 778-237-8158




    by TFRI Editor | Sep 07, 2016

    Dr. LupienNew TFRI project tackling most deadly and aggressive breast cancer from all directions

    Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) persists as a deadly form of breast cancer today that lacks effective therapies. Now, a newly formed and funded Terry Fox Research Institute team hopes to employ a four-pronged approach to change the odds for TNBC patients.

    Nearly all patients relapse within five years, and the median duration of survival is six to 12 months after the first metastasis, so there’s a drastic unmet clinical need here,” says Dr. Mathieu
    Lupien, a senior scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto, Ontario. “There’s not necessarily one research route that will solve it all, so we need to be able to tackle the problem taking multiple different approaches.”

     The team is focused on four research areas to enable better outcomes through new precision therapies:

    >Improving immunotherapy treatments
    >Changing tumour metabolism
    >Exploiting epigenetics vulnerabilities
    >Accelerating new treatment discovery through personalized models of patient-derived tumours

    “This is a fabulous team with a strong track record of discoveries made in breast cancer in their respective fields,” he says about his co-investigators. “We have a great synergy, and when we work as a team it goes a whole lot farther than if we work as single units. This team has a lot to offer!”

    The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) is partnering with TFRI in the funding of this important research project. As well, the immunotherapy component of the project will be co-led by Dr. Pam Ohashi, who is co-leading a new pan-Canadian project focused on using immunotherapy to improve outcomes for women diagnosed with a lethal form of ovarian cancer.

    Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death of Canadian women, with more than 5,000 dying from the disease each year. Around 20 per cent of these patients are diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, an extremely heterogeneous disease with no precision therapy options. The disease is more likely to affect women under age 40.

    The project will also generate significant resources in both datasets and personalized TNBC models for the broader research community in Canada, providing long-term benefits to improve patient care through personalized medicine.

    Project Title: Delineating therapeutic opportunities in triple-negative breast cancer
    Project Leader: Dr. Mathieu Lupien, PMCC, UHN
    Investigators: Drs. Cheryl Arrowsmith, Pam Ohashi, Trevor Pugh, Linda Penn, Benjamin Haibe-Kains, David Cescon, Lillian Siu (all PMCC, UHN)
    Award total: $2.25M
    Co-funder: Canadian Institutes of Health Research
    Duration: 2016-2019

    Dr. Mathieu Lupien (PMM)

    by TFRI Editor | Sep 06, 2016

    From mini-guts to the Hippo Pathway: Shutting down tumour growth in colorectal cancer

    Snapshot of 3d gut organoids 5 - CopyIn order for cancer to grow inside our bodies, it must overcome a series of control mechanisms that are important for tissue growth. One mechanism which is responsible for body organ size is aptly called the “Hippo” pathway.

    “This pathway constrains tissue size, and in cancer this pathway is inactivated, so the ability to control the growth of the tumour is lost,” says senior investigator Dr. Jeff Wrana, based at Toronto’s Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute (LTRI) at Mount Sinai Hospital.

     His newly-funded research team, which includes a handful of colleagues based at LTRI, will use their funding to understand how they can intervene and reactivate this pathway to suppress tumour growth.”

     The team is focusing on colorectal cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in Canada. Roughly one in every 14 people is likely to develop the disease.

     “The Hippo Pathway, the same regenerative pathway that’s so critical in repairing the intestine, is also playing a key role in the initiation of colorectal cancers,” Dr. Wrana says. “So our first focus is on colorectal cancer, and how we can interfere with this pathway using small molecules.”

    The team is divided into three sub-projects:

    Project 1 members will focus on target identification – or identifying ways the Hippo
     pathway can be controlled;

    Project 2 is aiming to identify small molecules and drug-like compounds that can act like inhibitors for the pathway;

    Project 3 will create new therapeutics to treat colorectal cancer at different stages of disease.

     Dr. Wrana says one of the things he’s most excited about is the cutting-edge technology the team will be utilizing. “Our core really is one of the top screening and mass spectrometry centres in the world,” he says. “We can exploit these technologies to do drug screens and do systematic mapping of protein networks and that kind of stuff, and then link it all back to colorectal cancer.”

     Mini-guts, or little tissues derived from stem cells that look like the gut, will also be developed to test new therapeutics. Part of the project will create patient-derived mini guts to match each individual’s genetic background, taking personalized medicine to the next level.

    “It’s an exciting aspect of modern science,” says Dr. Wrana. “We are absolutely elated to receive this grant, and we are so grateful to the Institute, and the critical role that donors play.”

    Project Title: Targeting the Hippo Signaling Network in Cancer
    Project Leader: Dr. Jeff Wrana, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute, Sinai Health System
    Investigators: Helen McNeill, Frank Sicheri, Anne-Claude Gingras, Steve Gallinger, Liliana Attisano
    Award total: $2.25M
    Duration: 2016-2019

    Related Patient Story: 

    Erika Schroedersecker: http://www.tfri.ca/en/OurWork/patient-stories/erika-schroedersecker

    From mini-guts to the Hippo pathway: Shutting down tumour growth in colorectal cancer

    From mini-guts to the Hippo pathway: Shutting down tumour growth in colorectal cancer


    by TFRI Editor | Sep 06, 2016

    Vancouver-based team will use new funding to continue its world-class research to overcome drug resistance in prostate cancer

    Dr. Martin GleaveTFRI’s Vancouver-based prostate cancer progression team is primed and ready to continue its world-class research on advanced, drug-resistant tumours after receiving a five-year renewal of Terry Fox funding.

    “This project is, in many ways, a continuation of ongoing work we have conducted for the past 15 years to better understand how prostate cancers adapt and evolve, thereby becoming resistant to the various drugs that we use to try and control advanced disease,” says Dr. Martin Gleave. He leads the New Frontiers Terry Fox Program Project Grant’s 20-person multidisciplinary team from the Vancouver Prostate Centre, where he is also the executive director.

    The team has a prolific track record for its success as a leader in developing new therapies to help patients whose cancer becomes resistant:

    > Notably, the anti-clusterin drug OGX-011, which was developed and supported with  earlier funding from the Terry Fox Foundation (among others), is currently being  tested in a Phase III clinical trial. An earlier Phase II study showed a seven-month  gain in survival for patients;

    > The group has also created four other targeted therapeutics, two biomarker  assays, and completed eight Phase I/II trials of novel agents;

    > Therapies that inhibit Hsp27 and ERG, which encode proteins typically mutated in  cancer, are in the works;

    > Their work has been published in more than 430 journal articles and they’ve filed  99 patents.

    With the latest injection of funding, the team will apply more cutting-edge science, such as new genomic technologies and computer-aided drug design, to their existing work. The lab also outlicensed a novel androgen receptor DNA-binding domain inhibitor to Roche, the largest ever from UBC, and will also be leading the first in-man clinical trial of the drug.

    “All of these projects are very cool and hold tremendous potential,” says Dr. Gleave. “Canada is able to hit well above its weight in the global arena, and I think that’s because of strategic funding from the Terry Fox Research Institute, which has been very forward- thinking in helping to bring people with multiple skill sets together to tackle bigger problems in science.”

    Prostate cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related death in Canadian men, and one of the most common cancers for this demographic.

    Project Title: Targeting the adaptive molecular landscape in castrate-resistant prostate cancer
    Project Leader: Dr. Martin Gleave, Vancouver Prostate Centre, UBC
    Investigators: Ralph Buttyan, Artem Cherkasov, Kim Chi, Colin Collins, Michael Cox, Mads Daugaard, Emma Guns, Christopher Ong, Alan So, Poul Sorensen, Yuzhuo Wang, Amina Zoubeidi (UBC, VPC)
    Award total: $7.5M
    Duration: 2016-2021

    Related Patient Story:

    Denis Petitclerc: http://www.tfri.ca/en/OurWork/patient-stories/denis-petitclerc

    Previously Funded Project: The Terry Fox New Frontiers Program Project Grant in Prostate Cancer Progression (2011-2016).


    by TFRI Editor | Sep 06, 2016

    TFRI-funded team building on decades of research to overcome treatment failure in lymphoid cancers

    TFRI’s prolific lymphoid cancer team began their research with a simple question: “Why do two-thirds of lymphoma patients recover, while the remainder does not?”

     A decade later their work is being renewed as they continue their mission to find solutions to this problem so all patients diagnosed with lymphoid cancer have better outcomes.

     “We have two major goals in this project: one is generating biomarkers and clinical tests, and the other is to generate novel therapeutics. The main theme is to treat patients more effectively.” says Dr. Christian Steidl, who is co-leading the project with Dr. Joseph Connors. Both are both based at the BC Cancer Agency Centre for Lymphoid Cancer in Vancouver, BC.

     Around 7,680 Canadians are diagnosed with lymphoma each year, making it one of the top five most common cancers in the country. While 60 to 70 per cent of patients are cured with standard therapy, the remainder are not – and it is unclear why.

     The renewed PPG will focus on innovation and technology, as well as expanding the research from diffused large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma to include both mantle cell and Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

     The project’s four sub-projects plan to conquer some of the biggest challenges in lymphoid cancer research, such as manipulating the tumour microenvironment to make it less hospitable to cancer cells, and preventing patient relapse.

     Lymphoid cancer cells are heterogeneous and constantly evolving, which makes them tough to target with current therapies, says Dr. Steidl. Cutting-edge technology from Vancouver’s Genome Sciences Centre – including mass spectrometry – will be employed to overcome these obstacles.

     The team’s renewal comes on the heels of a successful track record of translation and genomics discovery. Previous achievements include the discovery of recurrent gene mutations and related drug trial design (e.g.tazemetostat) for Non-Hodgkin lymphoma, major influences on treatment policies and education of health care professionals by implementation of a British Columbia-wide system to deliver lymphoma care, as well as biomarker development and implementation of routine-diagnostic tests for inclusion in ongoing clinical trials.

     “We are quite proud about the novelty and innovation that we have produced,” says Dr. Steidl. “We’re very excited about the fact that we have the expertise and the technology in place to tackle the most pressing problems in lymphoma research and patient care.”

    Project Title: Overcoming treatment failure in lymphoid cancer
    Project Leader: Dr. Joseph Connors, BC Cancer Agency Centre for Lymphoid Cancer
    Investigators: Drs. Christian Steidl, Marco Marra, David Scott, Andrew Weng UBC), Gregg Morin, Andrew Mungall, Graham Slack, Sohrab Shah (UBC), Carl Hansen (UBC), Ryan Morin (SFU).
    Award total: $7.5M
    Duration: 2016-2021

    Previously Funded Project: The Terry Fox New Frontiers Program Project Grant in Molecular Correlates of Treatmen Failure in Lymphoid Cancers

    Related Patient Stories: 

    Jackie Ellis: http://www.tfri.ca/en/OurWork/patient-stories/blood-cancers/jackie-ellis

    Darrin Park: http://www.tfri.ca/en/OurWork/patient-stories/blood-cancers/darrin-park

    Adam Green: http://www.tfri.ca/en/OurWork/patient-stories/blood-cancers/adam-green


    by TFRI Editor | Sep 02, 2016

    New Pan-Canadian immunotherapy project aims for greater "hope and options" for women with ovarian cancer

     Dr. O'Hashi lab shot2

    Dr. Pamela Ohashi

    Both around the world and in Canada, teams of researchers are working hard to harness the power of a patient’s own immune system to eradicate cancer through immunotherapy. Hailed now as the fourth arm of treatment, a newly funded TFRI pan-Canadian research team hopes this promising approach will give new hope and options to patients who need it the most.

    “We want to cure cancer and provide new treatment options for Canadians. Our initial focus will be high-grade serous ovarian cancer, a challenging disease in urgent need of new therapies,” explains project leader Dr. Pamela Ohashi, based at the University Health Network’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre in Toronto.

    High-grade serous cancer (HGSC) is the most common – and fatal – subtype of the disease, comprising around 70 per cent of cases. Prognosis is grim: the five-year survival rate for women presenting with advanced stage disease is less than 30 per cent.

    But it’s not all doom and gloom; this cancer is also known to be “immunogenic,” which means that the cancer can elicit an immune response and, therefore, patients may respond well to immunotherapy.

    "The immunoTherapy NeTwork (iTNT) brings together a team from across Canada who are experts in many different areas such as immunology and genomics,” says Dr. Ohashi, noting the team is also working with Dr. Mathieu Lupien’s new TFRI-funded triple negative breast cancer project. “Our goal is to understand the disease, and to come up with cutting-edge clinical trials so that Canadians have more treatment options by having the opportunity to participate in clinical trials.”

    The group intends to launch a PD-1 checkpoint blockade clinical trial in its first year, and continue to create high-quality information, knowledge and ideas to fuel clinical trials beyond the program’s timeframe during the next four years of funding.

    The team will use state-of-the art immunological, proteomic, bioinformatic and genomic approaches to explore changes in the immune response and tumour microenvironment as patients undergo standard treatments and novel immunotherapies.

    Collaboration between centres and researchers across Canada will greatly benefit iTNT. For example, Dr. Anne-Marie Mes-Masson (Centre de recherche du Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal), co-principal investigator for TFRI’s pan-Canadian Ovarian Experimental Unified Resource (COEUR), will provide access to more than 2,000 ovarian cancer samples to iTNT through the COEUR biobank.  

    It’s really this collection of expertise all focused on one disease that I think is really going to be the power of this network,” says Dr. Ohashi. “It’s all about giving hope and options to cancer patients, and hopefully impacting their survival.”

    Known as The Immunotherapy Network, the team will consist of principal investigators from UHN’s PMCC, the Institute du Cancer de Montreal, CRCHUM, BC Cancer Agency as well as working group members and collaborators from elsewhere in Quebec, Ontario, Alberta, British Columbia, and the US.

    Dr. Brad Nelson, based at the BC Cancer Agency’s Deeley Cancer Centre in Victoria, is the project co-leader and will lead work that will be aimed at providing subtype-specific immunotherapy for patients with HGSC. 

    Dr. Nelson-Deeley lab
    Dr. Brad Nelson (right) project co-leader with members of his team at the Deeley Cancer Centre in Victoria.

    Project Title: 
    The Immunotherapy Network (iTNT): Targeting Ovarian Cancer
    Project Leader: Dr. Pam Ohashi, UHN
    Dr. Brad Nelson (co-leader), BCCA, Hal Berman, PMCC; Marcus Butler, PMCC; Jean-Francois Cailhier, CRCHUM, Benjamin Haibe-Kains, PMCC; Naoto Hirano, PMCC; Rob Holt, BC Cancer Agency; Rejean Lapointe, CRCHUM; Claude Perreault, IRIC; Trevor Pugh, PMCC; Lillian Siu, PMCC: John Stagg, CRCHUM.   
    Award Total: $5.41M 
    Duration: 2016-2012


    New Pan-Canadian immunotherapy project aims for greater “hope and options” to women with ovarian cancer


    New Pan-Canadian immunotherapy project aims for greater “hope and options” to women with ovarian cancer



    by TFRI Editor | Sep 02, 2016

    New TFRI “dream” team will study relapsed brain cancer tumours to find new treatment options 

    Dr. Singh, McMaster University

    A newly funded TFRI “dream team” plans to tackle the most lethal and aggressive brain tumour that occurs in adults by focusing not on the original tumour, but on the relapsed cancer.

    “What we’ve learned so far about glioblastoma is that it always comes back, and when it does come back it’s an entirely different tumour landscape than the original cancer,” says principal investigator and pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Sheila Singh (McMaster University). “We think it’s so much more valuable to study the disease that’s actually killing the patients and to try to develop targeted therapies against that.”

    Approximately two to three people per 100,000 are diagnosed with glioblastoma each year. Fewer than five per cent of these patients survive beyond five years, with average survival time being around 15 months. (Editor’s note: This form of brain cancer is the same that Tragically Hip band member Gord Downie announced in May that he has.)

    “This is a very horrible and aggressive tumour because it robs people not only of their survival, but also of their quality of life,” says Dr. Singh, noting that she has assembled a “dream team” of scientists to help combat this deadly disease.

    The new PPG is comprised of three complimentary sub-projects led by Dr. Singh, as well as Drs. Sachdev Sidhu, Robert Rottapel and Jason Moffat, both based at the Donnelly Centre For Cellular and Biomolecular Research at the University of Toronto. One team is focused on characterizing the genomic landscape of recurrent glioblastoma using cutting-edge technology such as CRISPR-Cas9 (a genome editing tool recently celebrated as the discovery of the year). The second will design novel immunotherapies and antibodies that can bind to cancer cell receptors and ultimately kill them, and the third will test these new therapies in advanced mice models of glioblastoma. 

    “Our main goal is to get new therapies into patients as soon as possible,” says Dr. Singh, noting that it is her own patients who will be directly benefitting from new brain cancer therapies. “Our team also has the ability to commercialize, to bring industry partners in and help us actually develop drugs based on the antibodies we design…We are the whole package.”

    The complexity of glioblastoma poses a huge challenge, but Dr. Singh says the team is going in “with eyes open” to give back to the community.

    “We’ve got a lot of energy and enthusiasm and we’re going to channel it all into the science,” says Dr. Singh. “To be awarded this team grant and to function as a leader has been one of the most incredible honours of my life.”

    A former TFRI New Investigator, Dr. Singh has been involved in TFRI’s pan-Canadian translational glioblastoma project which is led by Dr. Greg Cairncross, University of Calgary, and involves a team of investigators based at research centres across the country. The latter project is also focused on bringing new treatments to the clinic for these patients, including one currently being tested in a clinical trial launched in spring 2016.

    Project TitleTargeting clonal heterogeneity in treatment-refractory glioblastoma with novel and empiric immunotherapies 
    Project Leader: Dr. Sheila Singh, McMaster University
    Investigators: Drs. Dachdev Sidhu and Jason Moffatt, Donnelly Centre for Cellular Biomolecular Research, University of Toronto; Dr. Robert Rottapel, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, UHN and U of T. 
    Award Total: 2.25 M
    Duration: 2016-2019

    Related Patient Story:

    Adam Coules: http://www.tfri.ca/en/OurWork/patient-stories/brain-cancer/adam-coules

  • “Smart” nanoparticle (PEARLs) a promising gem to target and treat tumours with greater precision

    by User Not Found | Jul 14, 2016

    Dr. Zheng
    Dr. Gang Zheng

    Canada – July, 14, 2016 – Dr. Gang Zheng and a team of biomedical researchers have discovered a “smart” organic, biodegradable nanoparticle that uses heat and light in a controlled manner to potentially target and ablate tumours with greater precision.

    The proof-of-concept findings, published online today and designated a “very important paper” in the leading chemistry journal Angewandte Chemie, provide a viable approach to boosting the clinical utility of photo-thermal therapy in treating cancer, says Dr. Zheng, senior scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and professor of medical biophysics at the University of Toronto. Dr. Zheng also holds the Joey and Toby Tanenbaum/Brazilian Ball Chair in Prostate Cancer Research. He talks about and demonstrates the research at https://youtu.be/EEN6Mz5iWBI.

    In the lab, using phantom models, the “smart” nanoparticle the team has dubbed  PEARLs – photo-thermal enhancing auto-regulating liposomes – showed how it can solve the two bottlenecks currently preventing more effective use of photo-thermal therapy with patients. These are overheating of tissue that can cause collateral damage during treatment, and the inability to ablate larger tumour volumes because the light stops travelling when it is absorbed.

    Explains the chemist: “Our smart nanoparticle is super cool. It can absorb light, generate heat and ablate the tumour. It’s a thermal sensor and once it reaches the desired ablation temperature of 55C, it becomes invisible, allowing the light to move deeper into more areas of the tumour and repeat the treatment process.

    “The result is a promising new way to heat and ablate larger volumes of the tumour with minimal damage to surrounding tissues in a controlled and precise way. The next step is to conduct pre-clinical studies to test the concept further.”

    For the past 10 years at PMCC, Dr. Zheng’s research has focused on advancing nanoparticle technology by harnessing light, heat and sound to advance tumour imaging and targeted treatment.

    Study: Controlling Spatial Heat and Light Distribution by Using Photothermal Enhancing Auto-Regulated Liposomes (PEARLs)

    Kenneth K Ng. Robert A. Weersink, Liang Lim, Brian C. Wilson, Gang Zheng 

    The research was funded by the Terry Fox Research Institute, Prostate Cancer Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Tanenbaum Chair in Prostate Cancer Research, and The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. 

    TFRI Links, Fall 2016
  • Stem cell scientists discover genetic switch to increase supply of stem cells from cord blood

    by User Not Found | Jul 14, 2016

    AML cells

    Canada – July 14, 2016) – International stem cell scientists, co-led in Canada by Terry Fox-funded scientist Dr. John Dick and in the Netherlands by Dr. Gerald de Haan, have discovered the switch to harness the power of cord blood and potentially increase the supply of stem cells for cancer patients needing transplantation therapy to fight their disease.

    The proof-of-concept findings, published online today in Cell Stem Cell (http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.stem.2016.06.008) provide a viable new approach to making more stem cells from cord blood, which is available through public cord blood banking, says co-principal investigator John Dick, senior scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, University Health Network (UHN). Dr. Dick is also professor, Department of Molecular Genetics, University of Toronto, and holds a Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Biology. The co-principal investigator was stem cell scientist Gerald de Haan, scientific co-director, European Institute for the Biology of Ageing, University Medical Centre Groningen, the Netherlands.  Dr. Dick talks about their joint research at https://youtu.be/cpEmKnjkb9s.

    “Stem cells are rare in cord blood and often there are not enough present in a typical collection to be useful for human transplantation. The goal is to find ways to make more of them and enable more patients to make use of blood stem cell therapy,” says Dr. Dick. “Our discovery shows a method that could be harnessed over the long term into a clinical therapy and we could take advantage of cord blood being collected in various public banks that are now growing across the country.”

    Currently, patients needing stem cell transplants are matched to an adult donor with a compatible immune system through international registry services. But worldwide, many thousands of patients are unable to get stem cell transplants needed to combat blood cancers such as leukemia because there is no donor match.

    “About 40,000 people receive stem cell transplants each year, but that represents only about one-third of the patients who require this therapy,” says Dr. Dick. “That’s why there is a big push in research to explore cord blood as a source because it is readily available and increases the opportunity to find tissue matches. The key is to expand stem cells from cord blood to make many more samples available to meet this need. And we’re making progress.”

    Although there is much research into expanding the rare stem cells present in cord blood, the Dick-de Haan teams took a different approach. When a stem cell divides it makes a lot of progenitor cells immediately downstream that retain key properties of being able to develop into everyone of the 10 mature blood cell types, but they have lost the critical ability to self-renew (keeping on replenishing the stem cell pool) that all true stem cells possess.

    In the lab, analysing murine and human models of blood development, the teams discovered that microRNA (mirR-125a) is a genetic switch that is normally on in stem cells and controls self-renewal; this normally gets turned off in the progenitor cells.

    “Our work shows that if we artificially throw the switch on in those downstream cells, we can endow them with stemness and they basically become stem cells and can be maintained over the long term,” says Dr. Dick.

    In 2011, Dr. Dick isolated a human blood stem cell in its purest form – as a single stem cell capable of regenerating the entire blood system, providing a more detailed road map of the human blood development system, and opening the door to capturing the power of these life-producing cells to treat cancer and other debilitating diseases more effectively.

    Dr. Dick is also senior scientist at the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine (UHN) and director of the Cancer Stem Cell Program at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.

    StudyEctopic miR-125a expression induces long-term repopulating stem cell capacity in mouse and human hematopoietic progenitors

    Authors: Edyta E. Wojtowicz, Eric R. Lechman, Karin G. Hermans, Erwin M. Schoof, Erno Wienholds, Ruth Isserlin, Peter A. van Veelen, Mathilde J.C. Broekhuis, George M.C. Janssen, Aaron Trotman-Grant, Stephanie M. Dobson,Gabriela Krivdova, Jantje Elzinga, James Kennedy, Olga I. Gan, Ankit Sinha,Vladimir Ignatchenko, Thomas Kislinger, Bertien Dethmers-Ausema,Ellen Weersing, Mir Farshid Alemdehy,Hans W.J. de Looper, Gary D. Bader, Martha Ritsema, Stefan J. Erkeland, Leonid V. Bystrykh,John E. Dick,and Gerald de Haan

    Funding: The Canadian team’s research published today was funded by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, the Terry Fox Foundation, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, the Canada Research Chair in Stem Cell Biology, The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, and the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-term Care.

    TFRI Links, Fall 2016
Back to Top