14 innovative Canadian minds set out to make new discoveries in prostate cancer research grants awarded by Movember Foundation and Prostate Cancer Canada

Toronto, ON - June 25, 2015: Fourteen forward-thinking Canadian prostate cancer researchers have been rewarded for their innovation with Movember Discovery Grants, funded by the Movember Foundation through Prostate Cancer Canada (PCC). The winners were selected based on novel research projects that have the potential to make a significant difference in a number of areas across the spectrum of prostate cancer research. Each grant is worth up to $200,000. 

"While we continue to make important strides along the more well-established avenues in prostate cancer research, we must also continue to explore novel approaches”, explained Dr. Stuart Edmonds, PCC Vice President of Research, Health Promotion and Survivorship. “With this new funding, we are generating new knowledge with the aim of uncovering new hope for the one in seven Canadian men who will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime."  

"The Canadian prostate cancer research community has made a significant global contribution to recent advances in prostate cancer treatment and care. Despite these advances, much work still remains to effectively distinguish between harmless and lethal prostate cancer, and stop the progression of the disease. Through the Movember Discovery Grant program, we are confident that the novel approaches taken in these projects will make an important contribution over the coming years,” said Paul Villanti, Executive Director Programs at the Movember Foundation.

Working out of a number of institutions across the country, this year’s recipients and their teams are collectively covering a breadth of areas, including new diagnostic biomarkers, treatment targets, and economic analyses:

Cheryl Helgason, BC Cancer Agency, Victoria

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, Victoria

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 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 and test immunotherapeutic approaches that are able to reverse this unwanted outcome.

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, therapy focuses greatly 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 detecting and treating high-risk androgen-dependent cancers before they become androgen-independent. They will examine a series of co-amplified cancer-causing genes that are present 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, University Health Network, 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 proliferation become dysregulated. Dr. Tommy Alain and his colleague Dr. Bruno Fonseca are studying a novel genetic regulator called LARP1 that protects normal cells in the prostate from becoming cancerous. Drs. Alain and Fonseca aim to gain a better understanding into how this regulator blocks cells from growing uncontrollably in the first place; new insights into how this process unfold may glean important information that can be ultimately used for the design of innovative treatments aimed at the treatment of prostate cancer. Their studies may potentially provide important advances in the development of effective anti-cancer agents in the future.  

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. It is expected that the results of this study will improve clinical decisions, healthcare optimization, influence health policy decisions, as well as increase patient empowerment.

Robert Hamilton, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, 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 molecular characteristics and 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, in collaboration with a team of international experts (Drs. Hutmacher, Furic and Larsson), Dr. Topisirovic 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 & Centre de Recherche du Centre Hospitalier de l'Université 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 and Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, Vancouver

Although there are several new drugs for advanced prostate cancer, each patient’s cancer can respond differently to each treatment. Since certain genetic changes may be able to predict these responses, Drs. Wyatt and Chi and their team will build upon their previous work in analyzing DNA from the blood of patients with advanced prostate cancer. They will determine whether presence or absence of particular genetic changes can predict if and how patients 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.

Having worked closely together on a number of such research initiatives over the past few years, the Movember Foundation and Prostate Cancer Canada have forged a unique partnership geared towards raising money for, investing in, overseeing, and promoting the most promising in prostate cancer research. As the primary funder of Prostate Cancer Canada, funds raised by Movember are awarded to researchers and their teams that have been selected by way of a rigorous peer review process run by Prostate Cancer Canada and includes experts in the field from around the world.

About the Movember Foundation

The Movember Foundation is a global charity raising funds and awareness for men’s health. These funds deliver breakthrough research and support services to allow men to live longer, healthier lives. Since 2003, millions have joined the men’s health movement, raising $670 million CAD and funding over 800 programs through impact investments, focusing on prostate cancer, testicular cancer, poor mental health and physical inactivity. The Foundation runs awareness and fundraising activities year-round, with the annual Movember campaign in November being globally recognized for its fun and innovative approach to raising money and getting men to take action for their health. During Movember, we challenge men to grow a moustache or to make a commitment to get active and MOVE, both of which are about real action for health and are done to spark conversation and raise vital funds and awareness. The Foundation’s vision is to have an everlasting impact on the state of men’s health. Movember is a registered charity in Canada - BN 848215604 RR0001. For more information visit Movember.com.

About Prostate Cancer Canada

Prostate Cancer Canada develops, offers and funds innovative programs related to awareness and public education, advocacy, support of those affected, and research into the prevention, detection, treatment and cure of prostate cancer. For more information please visit prostatecancer.ca.


For more information:
Adam Milller
Prostate Cancer Canada
416-441-2131 ext. 235

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