Canadian Cancer Society researchers use high-tech computer analytics to
predict which mutations cause breast cancer and how to stop it
TORONTO, Feb. 26, 2013 /CNW/ - Researchers in Vancouver are looking at
how breast cancer cells in patients mutate and evolve over time, which
can lead to the disease becoming resistant to treatment.
With a $1.25 million grant from the Canadian Cancer Society, Dr Sam
Aparicio and his team will answer questions about how breast cancer
arises, grows and mutates. The researchers will use sophisticated
techniques to analyze DNA from individual breast cancer cells and then
observe how the cells change in response to different conditions, such
as chemotherapy drugs. The research has the promise for global impact
in terms of understanding the disease as well as improving diagnosis,
treatment and patient outcomes.
"Cancer is a moving target. By predicting its actions and directions, we
gain a huge advantage in better understanding the disease and how to
stop it," says Dr Aparicio, a senior scientist at the BC Cancer Agency.
To date, scientists have had only a poor understanding of how genetic
changes in breast cancer tumours develop and evolve. When this
evolution takes place, cancer cells behave differently and can become
resistant to treatment and invade and spread to other parts of the
But recent technological advances - such as next-generation DNA
sequencing devices, coupled with cutting-edge computer algorithms and
statistical models - have made it possible for the Vancouver team to
analyze billions of pieces of genetic data from tumour samples to
predict which of the thousands of mutations are causing cancer and
which ones are harmless.
"It can be compared to the way Google works when you enter a search term
and it returns results," says Dr Sohrab Shah, a scientist who works
with Dr Aparicio at the BC Cancer Agency. "Because of this rapid genome
sequencing technology, we can now collect an immense quantity of
information about the DNA of cancer cells, and make sense of it using
"This is one of the most transformative moments in cancer research in
decades," says Dr Shah.
In this study, Dr Aparicio's team is focusing specifically on an
aggressive type of breast cancer known as triple-negative. There are
currently no targeted treatments for this type of breast cancer.
"This can be a devastating disease because it is more likely to spread
and reoccur," says Dr Aparicio. "This research will lead us forward so
that we can learn how to beat these evolving tumours with combinations
In Canada, breast cancer is one of the leading causes of illness and
death in women, and new options are desperately required to better
understand, diagnose and treat it. Last year nearly 23,000 Canadian
women were diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 5,000 women died
of the disease.
Canadian Cancer Society Impact Grants
These are the largest single grants ever offered by the Canadian Cancer
Society and have a maximum value of $1.25 million per grant over 5
years. They are highly prestigious and are intended to fund the best,
most promising cancer science in the country and move it significantly
Eleven new impact grants were awarded by the Canadian Cancer Society for
a total value of more than $13 million. This new funding program is
designed to provide a mechanism for scientists to adopt innovations and
accelerate the application of new knowledge to address problems in
cancer research. These grants have the potential to improve patient
quality of life and reduce cancer incidence and deaths.
"We are thrilled to be able to fund these outstanding new research
projects that have such tremendous promise," says Dr Siân Bevan,
Director of Research, Canadian Cancer Society. "In our 75th anniversary
year, we remain committed to making a difference in the lives of
Canadians by funding the best research and making the most impact
Some of the other grants awarded:
Dr David Huntsman, Vancouver, $1,250,000 - Using advanced genomic approaches including whole genome sequencing,
Dr David Huntsman is leading a study to identify driver mutations --
mutations that cause normal cells to become cancerous - in two of the
most deadliest forms of ovarian cancer. Dr Huntsman's team will
pinpoint the genetic mutations that underlie these cancers to identify
new biomarkers and treatments as well as strategies to prevent these
cancers from occurring in women with pre-cancerous endometriosis.
Dr Torsten Nielsen, Vancouver, $1,250,000 - Dr Torsten Nielsen has made major progress in the understanding of a
rare soft tissue cancer -- synovial sarcoma - which mainly affects
children and young adults and for which standard anticancer therapies
offer little benefit. Dr Nielsen is building this work to explore the
fundamental biology of similar sarcomas by constructing mice models to
study the diseases and identify effective drugs to move new therapies
to clinical trials and improve outcomes for patients.
Dr Neil Fleshner, Toronto, $1,250,000 - Metformin, a common diabetes drug, has been shown to have
cancer-fighting properties. Dr Neil Fleshner is leading a clinical
trial to test whether metformin can delay the progression of cancer in
men diagnosed with low-risk prostate cancer undergoing "active
surveillance", a treatment strategy involving no immediate radical
therapy, in order to spare them from radical therapy in the future.
Dr Ming-Sound Tsao, Toronto, $1,248,401 - The current overall survival rate for lung cancer patients is 15%
with a high risk of recurrence and cancer-related deaths. Dr Ming-Sound
Tsao will be using a strategic combination of advanced genomics
techniques to profile 144 non-small cell lung cancers with the goal of
identifying markers that can be used for improving targeted therapies.
Dr Claude Perrault, Montreal, $1,075,000 - Currently, 67,000 Canadians are living with a blood cancer, but only
50% of these patients will be cured using the standard chemotherapy
treatment. Dr Claude Perreault is testing a state-of-the-art
immunotherapy approach, which has already shown to be effective in
mice, to target specific proteins in patients for the treatment of
chemotherapy-resistant blood cancers.
Dr Yves Fradet, Quebec City, $999,470 - Bladder cancer is a common cancer in Western countries and has a high
rate of recurrence. A bacteria called BCG can be injected into the
bladder to stimulate the patient's immune system in order to fight the
cancer cells and prevent recurrence, although only 60% of patients
respond to this therapy. Dr Fradet is searching for new strategies to
prevent recurrence by improving the response rate to BCG with new
immunotherapy-based compounds that trigger a stronger immune response,
and developing a vaccine against markers specifically found on bladder
About the Canadian Cancer Society
For 75 years, the Canadian Cancer Society has been with Canadians in the
fight for life. We have been relentless in our commitment to prevent
cancer, fund research and support Canadians touched by cancer. From
this foundation, we will work with Canadians to change cancer forever
so fewer Canadians are diagnosed with the disease and more survive.
When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website at cancer.ca or call our toll-free bilingual Cancer Information Service at
Image with caption: "With funding from the Canadian Cancer Society, Dr. Sam Aparicio is studying single cells to understand how breast cancers mutate, evolve and become drug-resistant. (CNW Group/Canadian Cancer Society (National Office))". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20130226_C8390_PHOTO_EN_24048.jpg
Image with caption: "Dr. Sohrab Shah, working with Dr. Sam Aparicio, uses computer algorithms to analyze billions of pieces of genetic data to predict how breast cancer cells will behave. (CNW Group/Canadian Cancer Society (National Office))". Image available at: http://photos.newswire.ca/images/download/20130226_C8390_PHOTO_EN_24050.jpg
SOURCE: Canadian Cancer Society (National Office)
For further information:
Canadian Cancer Society