Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in Canada, with about one in every 14 people likely to develop the disease. TFRI’s Pan-Canadian Colorectal Cancer Consortium (C4) is uniting researchers across the country to detect it earlier and to identify novel treatment options.
“The goal of the project is to have a maximum impact on colon cancer and its effects on the population of Canada to reduce its incidence, and for the patients who do get colon cancer, to improve their survival,” says Dr. Gerald Batist (Jewish General Hospital, Montreal), who is co-leading the project with Dr. Steve Gallinger (MSH/UHN, Toronto).
Dr. Gallinger’s team has created a national screening axis to identify high-risk colon cancer families and have them tested appropriately, while Dr. Batist’s group is the therapeutic axis, building on a biopsy-driven prospective study established by the Quebec Clinical Research Organization in Cancer (Q-CROC). The therapeutic axis collects metastatic tissue both prior to treatment and at the time of drug resistance to identify potential biomarkers that could have implications in current therapeutic decision-making.
Around 20 per cent of people diagnosed with colon cancer have a family history of the disease, and around five per cent of all cases have an identifiable genetic cause that may be unknown to the patient. The challenge is identifying people who are at the highest risk through genetic testing, notes Dr. Gallinger, then ensuring these individuals are screened appropriately.
“We see people dying of this disease all the time, so I’m happy that we’re doing this research,” he remarks, adding that the longer the disease goes undetected the more likely it is to spread throughout the body. “I am hoping our work will be significant in terms of preventing a lot of deaths from colon cancer that are really almost entirely preventable.”
All colorectal cancers are not the same, but more like a collection of small sub-groups. With different molecular signatures and different genes driving them, they require different treatments, explains Dr. Batist, who is optimistic these are well within the grasp of their C4 team to develop.
“I would say I can conceive of a world without cancer - it’s within our reach,” says Dr. Batist, noting the importance of TFRI funding for completing this work. “If you can conceive of it, you can do it. I think it’s realizable – so let’s do it!”