New research involving man's best friend could provide important
insights into why some human cancers become resistant to treatment
TORONTO, April 16, 2014 /CNW/ - With a $165,000 Innovation Grant from
the Canadian Cancer Society, a University of Saskatchewan research team
will treat dogs with drug-resistant lymphoma to uncover the reasons for
this resistance and to identify ways to reverse it. Although scientists
have identified the various processes involved in anticancer drug
resistance, it remains a major problem and effective treatment is
"The cancer we're studying - lymphoma - is very similar to human
non-Hodgkin lymphoma. It's spontaneous and responds to drug therapy.
The same therapies are used, and both the canine and human cancers
develop similar drug resistance," says study leader Dr Troy Harkness, a
molecular geneticist and professor at the university. "Because dogs age
faster than humans, their disease advances more quickly and we are able
to observe results that much sooner."
The dogs participating in the study have already been diagnosed with
drug-resistant lymphoma. They will receive treatment on an outpatient
basis and the results of their treatment will be analyzed as part of
For over a decade, Dr Harkness' research has focused primarily on
cancers that no longer respond to treatment. Last year his research
team began studying the effect of Metformin on dogs with drug-resistant
lymphoma. Metformin is a drug that has long been used to treat type 2
diabetes. Metformin is thought to have anti-cancer properties,
potentially by decreasing the risk of cancer and may also have an
impact on existing cancers.
In this study, the researchers will combine Metformin with standard
chemotherapy to test if this will re-sensitize the dogs to anticancer
drugs. To unravel how the drug is affecting cancer, the researchers
will identify molecular markers of drug resistance, test whether
Metformin can return these markers to normal, and build a database of
the genetic changes associated with the onset of canine lymphoma. The
Saskatchewan researchers are the first in the world to look at how
Metformin may work to reverse lymphoma drug resistance in dogs.
The canine patients are being cared for by a team of veterinarians (Drs
Val MacDonald and Casey Gaunt at the Western College of Veterinary
Medicine). The unique team of scientists also includes experts in
medical endocrinology (Dr Terra Arnason) and bioinformatics (Dr Tony
Kusalik). The multidisciplinary team is essential to understanding the
genetic activity - which genes are turned on or off - and identifying
potential targets for new drug treatments.
"Whatever we find in dogs, we predict will be similar in humans. If we
find the right combination, we may be able to predict earlier when
multiple drug resistance is happening, target these individuals and
start with a new treatment that may ultimately be more effective," Dr
The team should collect enough data within 2 years to have a good idea
whether Metformin assists in reversing drug resistance. Then a similar
study could be run with people to apply what the team has learned in
Watch our video about Dr Harkness' research
"Expanding our knowledge about cancer can come from unique places, and
that's one of the goals of our Innovation Grants program - supporting
projects that approach cancer research from different perspectives,"
says Dr Siân Bevan, Director, Research, Canadian Cancer Society. "Dr
Harkness' research could lead to a better understanding of how
multi-drug resistance occurs and could lead to improved ways to detect
this resistance at earlier stages, identify targets for new treatments
and help these patients live longer."
The Society's Innovation Grants program supports innovation, creative
problem solving and unconventional concepts, approaches or
methodologies in cancer research. This year the Society has awarded 46
grants worth almost $9 million.
Below are a few of the other new Innovation Grants. A complete list is available on cancer.ca.
Dr Kevin Petrecca, McGill University, Montreal, $170,500 - Dr Petrecca is studying the genetics involved in the spread of the
most common adult brain cancer, glioblastoma. He has found that the
gene DRR is an important driver of cancer spread. He is now developing
a gene-silencing treatment to block DRR expression and testing its
effectiveness in a preclinical mouse model.
Dr Petrecca's grant has been named the Brooke's Donkeys Innovation Grant
of the Canadian Cancer Society in recognition of the outstanding
efforts of Brooke's Donkeys, one of the top Relay for Life fundraising
teams in Canada for the last 3 years. Since 2011, they have raised
Dr Wan Lam, BC Cancer Research Centre, Vancouver, $200,000 - Lung cancer is one of the deadliest cancers, and its treatment is
associated with adverse effects. Dr Lam is studying the role of immune
cells in lung cancer and a new type of immunotherapy that targets a
tumour's microenvironment. His team will collect samples from healthy
individuals and compare those with samples from lung cancer patients to
see differences in the types of immune cells and how they work. They
will test whether a new treatment that can target specific organs,
known as site-specific immunomodulation (SSI), triggers an anti-tumour
immune response in lung cancers. This could lead to new therapies for
Dr Sabine Mai, University of Manitoba, Winnipeg, $198,210 - When normal cells become cancer cells, their DNA architecture - the
way genetic material is organized in cells - changes. Dr Mai is using
super-resolution microscopy to compare normal cells to cancerous ones
and identify the architectural changes that take place. This work will
help build a better understanding of how cancer develops and identify
new structural biomarkers to define cancer cells and stages.
Dr Shana Kelley, University of Toronto, $200,000 - Cancers are more easily treated when they are diagnosed early, but
some cancers - such as those in the brain - are hard to detect at an
early stage. Dr Kelley is developing a novel way to diagnose cancers
early through a simple blood test. Taking advantage of new knowledge
that tumours release microparticles, she is developing a device to
collect these particles and analyze the information they carry about
the tumour. This device could be used to identify early signs that a
tumour is present in the body and pinpoint aggressive cancers needing
Through our generous donors and gold-standard peer-review process, the
Canadian Cancer Society funds the best cancer research in Canada. Our
funded researchers work in universities, hospitals and research centres
across the country and are mapping new ways to change cancer forever.
For more information, visit cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at
1-888-939-3333 (TTY 1-866-786-3934).
Image with caption: "Dr. Troy Harkness has received a Canadian Cancer Society Innovation Grant to investigate a new strategy to overcome treatment resistance in cancers. (CNW Group/Canadian Cancer Society (National Office))". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20140416_C4010_PHOTO_EN_39331.jpg
Image with caption: "Canadian Cancer Society (CNW Group/Canadian Cancer Society (National Office))". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20140416_C4010_PHOTO_EN_39332.jpg
SOURCE: Canadian Cancer Society (National Office)
For further information:
Manager, Research Communications
Canadian Cancer Society