Resources for coping with cancer during COVID-19. Learn More

12 innovative Canadian prostate cancer researchers set out to make new Discoveries

Grants made possible through Movember Foundation and Prostate Cancer Canada partnership

Toronto, ON – September 28, 2017: 12 forward-thinking Canadian prostate cancer researchers have been rewarded for their innovation with Movember Discovery Grants. Funded by the Movember Foundation and selected by Prostate Cancer Canada (PCC), the winners were chosen 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 Movember Foundation is committed to funding innovative new approaches in order to defeat prostate cancer,” explained Owen Sharp, CEO of the Movember Foundation. “These Movember Discovery Grants represent fresh thinking that will open up new lines of attack to help us beat this disease sooner. The work is only made possible by the incredible Mo Bros and Mo Sistas whose fundraising supports this work.  We’re so pleased to be able to direct their efforts into these exciting new projects.”

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 support for men living with the disease:

Alexander Wyatt, University of British Columbia

Recent years have seen the emergence of several new treatments for metastatic prostate cancer that has become resistant to hormone therapy. The standard of care for this advanced form of the disease is to use drugs that target a protein in cancer cells called the Androgen Receptor (AR). Although most patients benefit from these ‘AR-targeted drugs’, at least 10-20% of patients do not respond at all. We currently have no way to recognize this subset of patients up-front, which means they are inevitably treated with a drug that will not work, leading to wasted time while their disease worsens. The research of Dr. Wyatt and his team is focused on developing biomarkers to identify these ‘poor-prognosis’ patients so that they can be prioritized for other treatments that have a better chance of success. Success with this project will lead to a clinically-practical tool that can help patients avoid the use of ineffective therapy.

Richard Austin, McMaster University

It is currently unknown what circulating factors within the blood of patients with prostate cancer allow for the progression from a manageable localized stage to its terminal metastatic stage. We have now discovered that prostate cancer patients develop circulating autoantibodies in their blood that bind exclusively to the cell surface of tumour cells, thereby promoting tumour growth. Using established animal and cell models of prostate cancer, the objective of this research project is to understand how stopping the binding of these autoantibodies to tumour cells inhibits cancer growth and metastasis. Dr. Austin and his team have now demonstrated that widely used anticoagulants can attach themselves to a specific receptor on the surface of prostate cancer tumour cells and prevent the binding of the autoantibodies. Given that these anticoagulants cause unwanted bleeding in patients, the team has now generated a number of similar molecules without anticoagulant effects that will be examined for their ability to block tumor growth and metastasis without causing bleeding. Ultimately, this research project aims to develop novel therapeutic approaches that block this surface interaction, thereby increasing the survival of prostate cancer patients.
Stanley Liu, Sunnybrook Research Institute

Over 50% of prostate cancer patients will receive radiation treatment. If the cancer returns to the prostate after radiation treatment, however, it can cause significant symptoms (e.g., pain, obstruction, bleeding) or spread distantly and shorten their life span. Despite this important problem, it is not yet clear why prostate cancer can sometimes survive and recur after radiation treatment. Dr. Liu and his team have modelled this problem in their lab by studying prostate cancer cells that have survived radiation treatment. They recently published findings that the surviving cells behave aggressively and are more resistant to retreatment with radiation, similar to what we observe in the clinic. Dr. Liu and his co-investigators (Drs. Kislinger and Boutros) now propose to perform the very first analyses of combined genetic and protein changes that occur in recurrence after radiation. By comprehensively analyzing these changes, they will be able to determine how this drives cancer recurrence. The results of this research will identify key changes that can serve as ‘biomarkers’ that will help identify patients who have prostate cancer that is more likely to recur after radiation treatment. As well, if these changes alter certain proteins on the surface of prostate cancer cells, then these proteins may represent new drug targets. Together, this will guide oncologists on personalizing treatment decisions for prostate cancer patients.

Caroline Pukall, Queen’s University

Although numerous papers in the cancer literature make a call to be inclusive in terms of the sexual and gender diversity of the population sampled, very few studies include those who identify as LGBTQ+. The few studies that have focused on LGBTQ+ prostate cancer patients suggest that they have unique needs that are not being met, particularly in the psychosexual domain. However, these studies rely on small sample sizes, making it difficult to draw conclusions about the experiences of these individuals. Dr. Pukall and her team plan to focus on this population and assess multiple areas of function and outcome in different ways by launching the first-ever inclusive, comprehensive, and longitudinal study of LGBTQ+ prostate cancer patients. They will collect information on psychosexual function, medical indicators, and healthcare experiences via questionnaires and in-depth interviews. This study will fill a significant gap in the prostate cancer care literature, and it will have real-world implications for the care of LGBTQ+ cancer patients in Canada. There is strong potential for this study to provide unique information to LGBTQ+ prostate cancer patients and healthcare providers to enhance their dialogue to meet unmet needs of this patient group.

John Ronald, Robarts Research Institute

Men die from prostate cancer when it has spread from the prostate to other organs around the body. However, not every prostate cancer is “aggressive” and will spread, and regrettably doctors have no reliable test to tell whether a man’s prostate cancer is “aggressive” or not. This has profound and life-threatening implications on how to treat men with this disease. A test that can reliably provide vital personalized information on the aggressiveness of every man’s prostate cancer is urgently needed. The goal of Dr. Ronald’s team is to begin developing a game-changing technology through the innovation of tiny and safe DNA rings called tumour-activatable minicircles. Their initial studies with this brand-new tool showed that when injected into the body, these DNA rings remain “silent” in mice without cancer, but when they encounter tumours they get “turned on” to make a molecule that can be easily detected in the blood. Importantly, they will now begin testing the ability of this brand-new tool to identify mice carrying human prostate tumours of varying degrees of aggressiveness. In addition, they will develop brand new DNA rings that can make molecules that will be easily detectable in urine – a preferred body fluid for developing new medical tests. Future use of this cutting-edge technology in humans will lead to earlier and improved knowledge about the aggressiveness of each man’s prostate cancer, and ultimately provide doctors a window of opportunity to make better treatment decisions for everyone, improve overall quality of life, and save lives.

Neil Fleshner, University Health Network
Surgical removal of the prostate (prostatectomy) is the most effective approach to managing prostate cancer and preventing its spread outside of the primary site. Despite recent refinements in surgical methods, a large number of patients who undergo this procedure will experience a recurrence of their disease due to tissue left behind during surgery. Currently, the only way to assess the completeness of the surgery is through examining the removed prostate. If cancerous tissue is detected at the edge of the excised gland, it implies that some cancer cells remained behind. Rather than evaluating the tissue following surgery, Dr. Fleshner and his team propose to use a novel imaging approach to obtain immediately actionable information during the surgical procedure. By injecting a radioactive “tracer” – a molecule which accumulates in prostate cancer cells – we can use a small radiation-sensitive probe to detect any tumour tissue remaining after the removal of the prostate during the surgery. Demonstrating that this technique can reliably detect cancer cells that have been left behind during the surgery would lead to its widespread implementation in operating rooms throughout Canada and the world. This could greatly improve treatment outcomes by allowing surgeons to modify the amount of tissue they remove, potentially reducing the occurrence of adverse effects of surgery and preventing disease progression in patients with prostate cancer.

Theodorus van der Kwast, University Health Network

Dr. van der Kwast and his team will analyze prostate cancers with a specific feature that was recently discovered to put men at greater risk of developing metastatic disease. They will perform a genetic analysis to develop a timeline for the evolution of this feature. From there, connections will be drawn with the timing of spread to corresponding lymph nodes to establish the origin of the occurrence of metastasis. The findings from this study will help to resolve an important and unanswered question regarding when, exactly, prostate cancer metastasizes.

Lori Brotto, University of British Columbia

Up to 90% of prostate cancer survivors experience side-effects that interrupt their sexual lives, are highly distressing for men and their partners, and impact treatment decision-making. This research project focuses on improving sexual intimacy and overall quality of life for men and their partners following PC treatment. Historically, research has focused on restoring erectile function after prostate cancer treatments through medical interventions. Regardless of treatment effectiveness, rates of uptake and adherence are low, illustrating that medical interventions aimed solely at erectile function fall short in addressing sexual intimacy needs of the couple. More recently, psychosocial treatments that address the bio-psycho-social aspects of sexual intimacy have been developed and tested, but their effectiveness has been disappointing. Dr. Brotto and her team will develop a novel approach to improve intimacy after prostate cancer by comparing two psychological treatments (mindfulness versus cognitive behavioural therapy), each known to improve sexual problems and coping with cancer. They will evaluate the comparative effectiveness of each treatment, and identify which treatment works best for whom. In the long-term, they will disseminate this information as treatment manuals to centres that treat prostate cancer nation-wide in order to expand the program, helping men and their partners reclaim intimacy after prostate cancer and improve their overall quality of life.

Greg Stanisz, Sunnybrook Research Institute

A common treatment for prostate cancer is radiation therapy which traditionally involves delivering a small dose of radiation to the prostate on a daily basis over several weeks. However, almost one-third of patients are resistant to this therapy and will experience recurrence of their cancer. Oncologists are currently unable to predict which patients have cancers that are likely to recur after radiation treatment. Previous research conducted by Dr. Stanisz and his team has demonstrated the feasibility of using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to non-invasively measure cellular differences in tumours. They hypothesize that MRI will reveal differences between different types of tumours and will detect differences in tumour resistance to low and high doses of radiation. In this proposal, they will use prostate tumours implanted into mice with different degrees of aggressiveness and sensitivities to radiation treatment to investigate whether their advanced MRI techniques will allow them to predict cancer response to treatment. These findings will then be applied to a group of prostate cancer patients receiving radiation treatment.  This may ultimately allow for the use of this new approach to improve treatment decisions in prostate cancer patients being planned for radiation treatment.

Christopher Mueller, Queen’s University

At the start of treatment for prostate cancer if we could predict which men were most likely to develop a recurrence, then more aggressive and appropriate treatments could be applied before it was too late. Dr. Mueller and his team have developed a blood test for prostate cancer, and in this project they propose to add additional components which will allow them to predict patient outcomes earlier on, allowing the most appropriate action to be taken, with a greater chance for a cure.

Alison Allan, University of Western Ontario

A clinical test is available that can provide an indication of metastasis by identifying circulating tumor cells (CTCs) in a patient’s blood. However, Dr. Allan’s team believes that the parameters of this clinical test may not be able to accurately detect the most aggressive CTCs. Using innovative technology and mouse models of metastasis, the goal of this study is to determine the key identifying characteristics of aggressive prostate cancer CTCs; to investigate how they contribute to prostate cancer metastasis; and to determine the best clinically-relevant technology to analyze these important CTCs in patients in order to improve prostate cancer outcomes.

Jose Teodoro, McGill University

Prostate cancer arises due to mutations in critical genes that occur over the lifetime of an individual. PTEN is a tumour suppressor gene that becomes mutated in the majority of cases where the cancer progresses to a deadly metastatic form. The lab of Dr. Teodoro identified a cellular factor that becomes elevated in metastatic prostate cancer when the PTEN gene becomes mutated. The use of drugs to inhibit this factor slows the growth of prostate cancer cells. The first objective of this project is to show using a genetically engineered mouse model that this is an effective direction for prostate cancer therapy in living organisms. Secondly, the co-Principal Investigator on the project, Dr. Robert Day, has developed drugs with strong potential as effective inhibitors. Taken together, these studies will be the first to address this issue in prostate cancer, and will take the first steps in demonstrating significant clinical promise using an exciting new class of chemotherapeutic drugs.

About the Movember Foundation

The Movember Foundation is the leading men's health charity, funding over 1,200 projects in 21 countries worldwide -- focused on men's mental health, suicide prevention, testicular and prostate cancer research, and support. To date, Movember has raised over $800 million worldwide to deliver innovative, breakthrough research and support programs that enable men to live happier, healthier and longer lives.

About Prostate Cancer Canada

Prostate Cancer Canada is the leading national foundation dedicated to the prevention of the most common cancer in men through research, advocacy, education, support and awareness. As one of the largest investors in prostate cancer research in Canada, Prostate Cancer Canada is committed to continuous discovery in the areas of prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and support. For more information please visit prostatecancer.ca or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

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

Subscribe to our free monthly e-newsletter!

* indicates required


PCC Spotlight
Canadian Cancer Society and Prostate Cancer Canada celebrate their amalgamation

February 3, 2020 (Toronto, ON) – On the eve of World Cancer Day, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) and Prostate Cancer Canada (PCC) have finalized their amalgamation.

1.5 million Canadian men over 50 now at unnecessary risk for prostate cancer

Toronto (ON) – September 26, 2019 – New findings released today in a Prostate Cancer Canada nationwide survey suggest 1.

$2 million invested in new prostate cancer research

Prostate Cancer Canada and Movember partner to fund ten research projects breaking new ground

Dream car draw a win for all Ontarians affected by prostate cancer

February 22, 2019 – TORONTO, ON – A dream came true today for Harold Mutter (ticket #19273), the lucky winner of a 2018 Acura NSX valued at more than $235,000 - the prize for Prostate Cancer Canada’s seventh Rock the Road Raffle.

Click here for news archive