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TFRI News | August 26, 2015

Quebec researchers to fight a deadly form of children’s leukemia and to test a new way to kill prostate cancer cells

cellot_sonia_web               john_stagg_web               wilhelm_brian_web
From left: Dr. Sonia Cellot, Dr. John Stagg and Dr. Brian Wilhelm





August 26, 2015
Terry Fox partners with Quebec funders to fight a deadly form of children’s leukemia and to test a new way to kill prostate cancer cells

Montreal, Quebec – Terry Fox undertook his Marathon of Hope 35 years ago after spending months in a pediatric ward for his bone cancer. Today, two of three Quebec researchers to receive funding from Terry Fox will pursue new ways to help children in hospital today who are battling a deadly form of leukemia. A third-funded researcher will test a recent molecular finding to see how the immune system might help kill prostate cancer tumour cells.

The awards go to new investigators Drs. Sonia Cellot and Brian Wilhelm, at CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center and Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer, respectively, where they are researching acute myeloid leukemia (AML) with the goal of helping to improve survival for children diagnosed as well as determining less-damaging treatments. At the Centre de Recherche de Centre Hospitalier de l’Universite de Montreal (CRCHUM), Dr. John Stagg will test a recent molecular finding to see how the immune system might more effectively kill prostate cancer tumour cells. The three investigators are professors at the Université de Montréal.

The three scientists are receiving a total of $1.35 million from the Terry Fox Research Institute and its new partners in Quebec during this important anniversary milestone year for the Terry Fox Foundation. Each researcher will receive a total of $450,000 as result of their success in the annual peer-reviewed, country-wide competition.

Joining TFRI in the cancer fight in Quebec with a total contribution of $615,000 to the funded investigators are new partners: the Fonds de recherche du Quebec – Santé (FRQS) ($330,000), The Cole Foundation ($142,500), The CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation ($62,500), Fondation Centre de cancérologie Charles-Bruneau ($50,000), and L’Institut de Recherche en immunologie et cancérologie (IRIC) ($30,000)

“On behalf of TFRI and the Terry Fox Foundation, we congratulate Drs. Cellot, Stagg and Wilhelm on their selection to receive our prestigious Terry Fox New Investigator Award. These three-year awards enable top new talent at our partner cancer research institutions to gain valuable mentorship experience within our pan-Canadian research community from world-class research teams. Further, they are a game-changer for many of the recipients, enabling them to build their own research and laboratory programs at a critical time in their careers. We also thank our new funding partners here in Quebec who made it possible this year for us to invest a record $2.7 million so, most importantly, we can support these future leaders in cancer research who will play a pivotal role in helping us to fulfill Terry’s dream to eradicate cancer,” says Dr. Victor Ling, TFRI President and Scientific Director.

“The Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS) is very pleased to join forces with the Terry Fox Research Institute. Through this collaboration, experts in Québec will lead cutting-edge, national cancer research programs. We wish the grant recipients every success. These promising young researchers will tackle pediatric leukemia and prostate cancer,” confirmed Dr. Renaldo Battista, scientific director of the FRQS.

“Partnerships between organizations are very important as the challenges of conquering diseases are far greater than the financial resources of a single institution,” says Mr. Barry Cole, president of The Cole Foundation, a new partner with TFRI in funding pediatric and young adult leukemia and lymphoma research. The Cole Foundation is supporting the work of Drs. Cellot and Wilhelm.

"It is exciting to see foundations across Canada partnering to support the next generation of Canadian scientists. We are very proud to come together with our partners and endorse our young investigator Dr. Sonia Cellot,” says CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation’s President and Chief Executive Officer Maud Cohen. “We are confident that our joint support will contribute in giving children with cancer the best chances of recovery,” says Fondation Centre de cancérologie Charles-Bruneau’s President Richard Laramée.

“CHU Sainte-Justine is extremely pleased to account our clinician-scientist Dr. Sonia Cellot and her team to be among the top researchers selected by the TFRI”, says Alain Moreau, Director of Research and Chief Scientific Officer of the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center. “Taking part in an effort to fight cancer collectively across the country is a privileged and most valuable approach, as the need to improve children with cancer’s health and quality of life is global and knows no borders.”

"IRIC is very proud to be associated once again with TFRI through this award to Dr. Brian Wilhelm and his team, especially since Terry Fox’s work remains an inspiration for all researchers working in the field of cancer research. The determination and the strength of Terry encourages us to continue the Marathon of Hope and to ensure we accelerate research against this disease, "adds Michel Bouvier, chief executive officer of IRIC.

While there have been rapid advancement in some forms of leukemia, the prognosis for children diagnosed with AML is grim: only about six out of ten children diagnosed with this disease will survive. Drs. Cellot and Wilhelm will both study ways to improve the outcomes for these young cancer patients. Dr. Cellot’s funded project will generate new knowledge on the role of chromatin structure changes in childhood acute myeloid leukemia. The outcome of this project will lead to novel therapeutic strategies to treat this high risk group of leukemia patients. “We don’t have the cure rates as high as in other areas of leukemia, so this is a big focus for me, and I’m extremely grateful to the TFRI and the contributing partner foundations for their financial support” says Dr. Cellot. She is interested in developing ways in which drugs might be able to target leukemic stem cells while preserving the normal blood stem cells.

Dr. Wilhelm will further study a small group of genes identified with the disease to enable the development of new ways to treat the disease. “We have to think of new ways to specifically target the leukemia without causing the damaging secondary effects seen with standard chemotherapy,” he remarks.

Third award recipient Dr. John Stagg will examine new ways in which immunotherapy – where the patient’s own immune system is stimulated to destroy cancer cells – can be used to treat prostate cancer. He says “things are evolving rapidly and there’s more hope now than a year ago for cancer patients.”

TFRI has announced New Investigator awards to three other Canadian researchers: two in British Columbia and one in Ontario to pursue their research under Terry Fox’s name. TFRI invests funds raised by the Terry Fox Foundation through the annual Terry Fox Run, which this year will be held on Sunday, September 20, 2015.

About The Terry Fox Foundation (TFF)
The Terry Fox Foundation maintains the vision and principles of Terry Fox while raising money for cancer research through the annual Terry Fox Run, Terry’s CAUSE on Campus, National School Run Day and other fundraising initiatives. To date, over $700 million has been raised worldwide for cancer research in Terry Fox's name. The first Terry Fox Run was held in 1981, with The Terry Fox Foundation being created in 1988. Its national headquarters are located in Chilliwack, BC and it has offices in 9 provinces.

About The Terry Fox Research Institute (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 65 cancer hospitals and research organizations across Canada. TFRI headquarters are in Vancouver, BC.

About the Fonds de Recherche du Quebec-Sante (FRQS)
The mission of the Fonds de recherche du Québec – Santé (FRQS), which reports to the Minister of Education, Higher Education and Research, is to support health research to foster the wellness of Québec's population. Its mandate is to promote and financially support such research, to disseminate knowledge and train researchers, to forge the partnerships necessary for the development of Quebec's research and innovation system, and, lastly, to advance research internationally. For further information, visit

About The Cole Foundation
The Cole Foundation offers two-year fellowships to clinical, doctoral and postdoctoral graduate scientists dedicated to research in leukemia and leukemia-related diseases in children and young adults. Through its fellowships, the Cole Foundation has committed more than $6 million to support leukemia researchers in Greater Montreal laboratories and hospitals. The Cole Foundation was created in 1980 by the late businessman John N. (Jack) Cole to support Montreal-based research in pediatric oncology and hematology. He established the Penny Cole Laboratory at the Montreal Children’s Hospital and the Jack Cole Chair in Pediatric Oncology and Hematology at McGill University.

About the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation
The mission of the CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation is to engage the community and support CHU Sainte-Justine in its pursuit of excellence and its commitment to provide the children and mothers of today and tomorrow with one of the highest levels of healthcare in the world.

About Fondation Centre de cancérologie Charles-Bruneau
The Fondation Centre de cancérologie Charles-Bruneau is dedicated to fighting against pediatric cancer. Its mission is to finance research and support the development of projects in the area of pediatric oncology in Quebec. .

About CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center
CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center is a leading mother-child research institution affiliated with the Université de Montréal. It brings together more than 200 research investigators, including over 90 clinician-scientists, as well as 350 graduate and post-graduate students focused on finding innovative prevention means, faster and less invasive treatments, as well as personalized approaches to medicine. The Center is part of CHU Sainte-Justine, which is the largest mother-child center in Canada and second most important pediatric center in North America. More on

About the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer
An ultra-modern research hub and training centre located in the heart of the Université de Montreal, the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) was created in 2003 to shed light on the mechanisms of cancer and discover new, more effective therapies to counter this disease. IRIC operates according to a model that is unique in Canada. Its innovative approach to research has already led to discoveries that will, over the coming years, have a significant impact on the fight against cancer. For more information:

About the CRCHUM
The Université de Montréal Hospital Research Centre (CRCHUM) improves the health of adults through a high-quality academic research continuum which, by improving our understanding of etiological and pathogenic mechanisms, fosters the development, implementation, and assessment of new preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic strategies. The CRCHUM provides a training environment to ensure the development of new generations of researchers committed to research excellence.

For more information, or to arrange an interview, please contact:

Kelly Curwin
Chief Communications Officer
Terry Fox Research Institute
Vancouver, BC
O :604-675-8223
C : 778-237-8158

Michelle Dubuc, M. Sc.
Chef des communications
Service des communications et de la mobilisation des connaissances
Fonds de recherche du Québec
500, rue Sherbrooke Ouest, bureau 800
Montréal (Québec) H3A 3C6
Téléphone : 514 873-2114, poste 1235
Télécopieur : 514 873-8768

Barry Cole, President
The Cole Foundation
Montreal, QC
(514) 938-9428

Mélanie Dallaire
Senior Communication Advisor, Media Relations
CHU Sainte-Justine (for CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center, CHU Sainte-Justine Foundation and Fondation Centre de cancérologie Charles-Bruneau)
514-345-7707 (direct); 514 415-5727 (pager)

Manon Pepin
Directrice des communications et relations avec les médias Director, Communication and Media Relations
Institut de recherche en immunologie et en cancérologie
Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer
Université de Montréal, Pavillon Marcelle-Coutu
(514) 343-7283

Isabelle Girard
Information Officer
Telephone: +1 514 890-8000, extension 12725