January 4, 2021

Brain cancer linked to tissue healing, study finds

A brain scan showing a top down view of a cross-section with a glioblastoma tumour highlighted in red. (Hellerhoff, Wikimedia Commons)

Researchers discover brain cancer may develop when tissue healing runs amok, uncovering new approaches to combat the deadly disease

The healing process that follows a brain injury, such as an infection or a stroke, could spur tumour growth when the new cells generated are derailed by mutations, Toronto scientists have found. This discovery could lead to new therapy for glioblastoma patients who currently have limited treatment options with an average lifespan of 15 months after diagnosis.

The findings, published today in Nature Cancer, were made by an interdisciplinary team of researchers from OICR, the University of Toronto’s Donnelly Centre for Cellular and Biomolecular Research, The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids) and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre who are also on the pan-Canadian Stand Up to Cancer (SU2C) Canada Dream Team that focuses on a common brain cancer known as glioblastoma.

“Our data suggest that the right mutational change in particular cells in the brain could be modified by injury to give rise to a tumour,” says Dr. Peter Dirks, senior author of the study, OICR-supported researcher, Dream Team co-leader, and Head of the Division of Neurosurgery and a Senior Scientist in the Developmental and Stem Cell Biology program at SickKids. “We’re excited about what this tells us about how cancer originates and grows and it opens up entirely new ideas about treatment by focusing on the injury and inflammation response.”

The research group, led in part by OICR and Princess Margaret’s Dr. Trevor Pugh, applied the latest single-cell RNA sequencing and machine learning technologies to map the molecular make-up of the glioblastoma stem cells (GSCs), which Dirks’ team previously showed are responsible for tumour initiation and recurrence after treatment.

Equipped with these single-cell analysis methods, the research group was able to accurately differentiate and study different types of tumour cells. Through analyzing 26 tumours and nearly 70,000 cells, they found new subpopulations of GSCs that bear the molecular hallmarks of inflammation.

This finding suggests that some glioblastomas may start to form when the normal tissue healing process is derailed by mutations, possibly even many years before patients become symptomatic, Dirks says. Once a mutant cell becomes engaged in wound healing, it cannot stop multiplying because the normal controls are broken and this spurs tumour growth, according to the study.

The study’s authors, including co-leading researcher, Dr. Gary Bader from the Donnelly Centre as well as graduate students including Owen Whitley and Laura Richards, are now working to develop tailored therapies target these different molecular subgroups.

“There’s a real opportunity here for precision medicine.” says Pugh, who is Director of Genomics at OICR and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. “To dissect patients’ tumours at the single cell level and design a drug cocktail that can take out more than one cancer stem cell subclone at the same time.”

In addition to funding from the Stand Up To Cancer Canada Cancer Stem Cell Dream Team: Targeting Brain Tumour Stem Cell Epigenetic and Molecular Networks, the research was also funded by Genome Canada, the Canadian Institutes for Health Research, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, Terry Fox Research Institute, the Canadian Cancer Society and SickKids Foundation.

December 3, 2020

Happy holidays from OICR

A holiday message from Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, OICR’s President and Scientific Director:

This year has presented immense challenges and hardships for people around the world, including cancer patients, researchers, clinicians and many others in the OICR community.

As I reflect on what has transpired over 2020, I think the most lasting memory will be the amazing adaptability of our staff, funded researchers, leadership and partners that has allowed us to continue pressing ahead in the fight against cancer, all while contributing to COVID-19 research and staying safe. I thank everyone for their remarkable contributions to cancer research during this difficult time and for being part of the historic scientific campaign against COVID-19, while keeping our cancer focus solidly intact.

While the year did not go as anyone planned, we have continued to make a difference for cancer patients by advancing cutting-edge solutions for preventing, screening, diagnosing and treating cancer. Of particular note this year was the Pan-Cancer Analysis of Whole Genomes (PCAWG) project coming to its climax, generating astounding insights into cancer genomics that are fueling entirely new ways to approach cancer such as developing new tools and approaches to interrogate the role of non-coding regions of the genome. This project is emblematic of the efforts of OICR researchers across our programs to collaborate and find truly novel solutions to the many challenges we face in improving the lives of cancer patients. The scientific network of investigators we fund has also made tremendous contributions, including advancing new drug targets and cell therapy approaches against cancer as well as inroads in understanding cancer therapeutic resistance via cancer stem cells and uncovering novel molecular subsets of cancers, such as pancreatic cancer.

Earlier this year a positive international external review found that OICR is making a true impact and is on the right track, having built a firm foundation to reinforce our model and take the next steps in furthering our impact. Through consultations with our stakeholders, we have developed a bold and visionary new strategic plan that will expand our focus on early cancer detection and intervention as well as strengthen our growing and successful drug discovery efforts. This plan builds not only on our current momentum, but also further deepens collaborations with our provincial, national and global partners.

Of course, our progress thus far would not be possible without the support of the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Colleges and Universities – I thank them for their continued investment in made-in-Ontario cancer innovations and belief in our vision of “cancer solved together”. I also thank our partners in cancer research and care at cancer centres, research institutes and universities across Ontario for their continued collaboration and engagement. Together we have continued to perform world class research, improve cancer care and bring real economic benefits to Ontario’s economy.

In closing, I note that many of us will not be able to celebrate the holidays as we have in years past. While this is unfortunate, we must focus on the good we are doing for ourselves, our loved ones and our communities by doing our part for public health. I wish happy holidays and a happy new year to all as we look forward to a much brighter year ahead. Please take care and stay safe.

Sincerly,

Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi
President and Scientific Director, OICR

November 30, 2020

Researchers find 3-D structure of the genome is behind the self-renewing capabilities of blood stem cells

Drs. Mathieu Lupien and John Dick.

OICR-funded researchers open a new path to discover drivers of chemotherapy resistance and cancer relapse

Stem cells have the capability to self-renew and create other types of cells, but not all stem cells are equal. OICR-supported researchers at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Drs. Mathieu Lupien and John Dick, have discovered a new way to distinguish the self-renewing capabilities of stem cells, revealing new ways to study the origins of cancer and cancer recurrence.

In their recently published study in Cell Stem Cell, Lupien, Dick and collaborators identified how some blood – or hematopoetic – stem cells can self-renew but others lose that ability. They found differences in the three-dimensional structure of the genetic information between different stem cell types.

DNA within each human cell, including stem cells, is coiled and compacted in a highly regulated way into structures called chromatin. Depending on how DNA is compacted into chromatin, some regions of DNA are accessible to gene-expressing cellular machinery while some aren’t, influencing how genes are expressed and how a cell may behave. The study group identified that this chromatin accessibility is a key component of a cell’s self-renewing capabilities and “stemness”.

“Enabled by the latest technologies, we found that the pattern of closed – or inaccessible – regions of DNA and the open or accessible regions differ between the long-term self-renewing stem cells and other more mature blood cell populations” says Lupien, Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto and OICR Investigator.

The study discovered that the self-renewal capabilities are specifically linked to parts of the genome that bind a protein that is responsible for chromatin folding, called CTCF. As cancer researchers, Lupien and Dick are now applying these discoveries made in normal stem cells to study cancer stem cells. It is thought that if a cancer treatment cannot eliminate the cancer’s stem cells, these surviving self-renewing cells can give rise to recurrent tumours. With a better understanding of cancer stem cells, researchers can investigate the roots of cancer and how to potentially target or manipulate the mechanisms behind self-renewal.

This breakthrough study was made possible by Lupien’s expertise in epigenetics, the field that studies gene expression, Dick’s expertise in stemness and blood development, and the contributions of collaborators and trainees, including Drs. Naoya Takayama and Alex Murison who led the wet lab assays and bioinformatics analyses respectively.

“Understanding how stemness is controlled is key to being able to harness the power of stem cells for cell-based therapies, but also to understand how malignant cells perturb stemness to allow the cancer stem cells to continue to propagate tumor growth,” says Dick, Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, Professor at the University of Toronto and lead of OICR’s Acute Leukemia Translational Research Initiative. “We look forward to furthering our understanding of hematopoiesis and bringing these insights closer to clinical application.”

November 18, 2020

Three OICR researchers named to this year’s Highly Cited Researchers list

Ontario cancer research leaders, Drs. Geoff Fong, Trevor Pugh and Lincoln Stein recognized as Highly Cited Researchers by Clarivate for their influential work

OICR is proud to celebrate the recognition of three Ontario cancer research leaders, Drs. Geoffrey Fong, Trevor Pugh and Lincoln Stein as Clarivate’s Highly Cited Researchers of 2020. This recognition demonstrates the incredible global impact of Ontario’s researchers and underscores the importance of sharing knowledge for greater progress around the world.

Fong, Pugh and Stein, who are senior OICR investigators and leaders, have led several international scientific collaborations that have uncovered valuable knowledge and informed disease control and management strategies in Canada and around the world.

  • Dr. Geoffrey Fong leads the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project, which conducts cohort studies on the implementation of evidence-based tobacco control policies. The ITC Project has conducted studies in 29 countries, inhabited by more than 50 per cent of the world’s population.
  • Dr. Trevor Pugh, who was recently named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40, leads highly-collaborative genomics studies that are focused on applying sequencing analysis in the clinic. His landmark cancer genome studies have advanced research across different cancer types and his work continues to make precision cancer medicine a reality.  
  • Dr. Lincoln Stein has led large international data sharing consortia, such as the International HapMap Consortium and the International Cancer Genome Consortium, which have led to highly-cited scientific tools and discoveries. The tools, data and knowledge resulting from these consortia have been used by tens of thousands of people around the world.

“We’re proud that cancer researchers here in Ontario are making a worldwide impact that will improve the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director of OICR. “I congratulate Drs. Fong, Pugh and Stein on this well-deserved recognition.”

The highly-anticipated annual list identifies researchers who demonstrated significant influence in their field or fields through the publication of multiple highly cited papers during the last decade. Their names are drawn from the publications that rank in the top one per cent by citations for field and publication year in the Web of Science citation index. Clarivate’s methodology draws on the data and analysis performed by bibliometric experts and data scientists at Clarivate’s Institute for Scientific Information.

The full 2020 Highly Cited Researchers list and executive summary can be found online here.

November 5, 2020

Study finds that every month delay in cancer treatment can raise risk of death by around 10 per cent

Dr. Tim Hanna, Radiation Oncologist at the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario, Faculty of Queen’s Cancer Research Institute, OICR Clinician Scientists and lead of the study.

Research led by Dr. Timothy Hanna suggests that minimizing delays to treatment could improve cancer survival rates

Many countries have needed to defer cancer surgeries, radiotherapy and other treatments through the COVID-19 pandemic, which has brought the impact of treatment delays into sharp focus. In a study published today in The BMJ, Dr. Timothy Hanna and collaborators report that people whose cancer treatment is delayed by even four weeks have in many cases a six to 13 per cent higher risk of dying – a risk that keeps rising the longer their treatment does not begin.

“We know that delay matters and now we understand how much it matters,” says Hanna, Radiation Oncologist at the Cancer Centre of Southeastern Ontario, Faculty of Queen’s Cancer Research Institute, OICR Clinician Scientists and lead of the study. “With these data, we can now quantify the impact of treatment delays – including those that we’re experiencing now throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.”

The research group reviewed and analyzed relevant studies from around the world that were published over the last two decades. They found that there was a significant impact on a person’s risk of death if their treatment was delayed, whether the treatment was surgical, chemotherapy or radiotherapy. They observed this impact across all seven types of cancer analyzed – breast, bladder, colon, rectum, lung, cervix and head and neck cancers.

For example, with cancer surgery, they saw a six to eight per cent increase in the risk of death for every four-week treatment delay, meaning that a three-month delay could increase the risk of death by about 25 per cent. The impact was even greater for specific treatments – such as bowel cancer chemotherapy – where a three-month delay could cause a 44 per cent increase in risk of death.

“As we move towards the second COVID-19 wave in many countries, the results emphasize the need to prioritize cancer services including surgery, drug treatments and radiotherapy as even a four-week delay can significantly increase the risk of cancer death,” says Dr. Ajay Aggarwal, co-lead of the study from King’s College London and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

Hanna hopes this study will help inform cancer treatment backlog management and prioritization. His prior work on prioritizing treatment during COVID-19, published in Nature Reviews Clinical Oncology, has been incorporated into health system planning and management in Ontario and around the world.

“The impact of cancer treatment delays will persist long after the threat of this pandemic subsides,” says Hanna. “As a clinician, a patient, an administrator or a decision-maker in our cancer care system, these results should encourage us all to put resources and efforts in place to minimize system level delays in cancer treatment.”

October 29, 2020

OICR Senior Investigator Dr. Trevor Pugh named one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40

Trevor Pugh
Dr. Trevor Pugh.

Dr. Trevor Pugh, OICR Senior Investigator, OICR Director of Genomics and Senior Scientist, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre has been named a Recipient of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 for 2020.

The annual award was founded by Caldwell and recognizes 40 exceptional Canadian leaders who are visionaries, creative problem-solvers, inspire others, give back to the community and are under the age of 40.

Pugh and his fellow awardees were selected from over 900 nominees by an independent advisory board, comprising more than 25 business leaders from across Canada. Honourees were chosen on four key criteria: vision and innovation, leadership, impact and influence, and social responsibility.

When told that he had won, Dr. Pugh was elated.

“I could not believe it,” he said. “I’m tremendously excited. I really look forward to connecting with the Top 40 Under 40 community. It is very gratifying to see genome science and translational science – which has a direct impact on patient care – be recognized as an important field along with business luminaries.”

Pugh is a world-leading cancer genomics researcher and molecular geneticist whose mission is to use comprehensive genomic profiling and molecular technologies to guide the treatment of patients.

After receiving a PhD in medical genetics from the University of British Columbia, he did further postdoctoral work at Harvard Medical School, Broad Institute of Harvard and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), as well as the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

He leads a multidisciplinary lab with 24 staff and trainees, and oversees 55 research staff at one of the largest genomics facilities in Canada at OICR and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. He is also an Associate Professor in the Department of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto.

Pugh is listed on the 2019 Highly Cited Researchers List by Clarivate Analytics. This list recognizes researchers whose published work has ranked in the top 1 per cent by citations of other researchers the world over.

He has also developed novel genomics technologies, including a new method which assesses and monitors if immune cells have been activated to fight cancer cells. 

“I congratulate Trevor on being named to the prestigious Canada’s Top 40 Under 40. Through his cutting-edge research and leadership, Trevor is creating a future in which genomics are a routine part of cancer detection and precision treatment,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director, OICR. “Through his work at OICR I have seen firsthand Trevor’s outstanding commitment to his field, the collaborative and transparent spirit in his work, and his heartfelt desire to improve the lives of those with cancer.”

As a clinical molecular geneticist, genome scientist, and computational biologist, Pugh’s goal is to bring cutting-edge genomic technologies into routine use in cancer clinics – especially vital as the latest cancer treatments are increasingly based on genetic information.


Known widely for his leadership of numerous cancer genome research projects, Pugh’s expertise in clinical genomics has been foundational to the launch of the national Terry Fox Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network, which has become the nation-wide focal point to accelerate precision medicine for cancer. The Network will unite top-tier researchers and clinicians to test cutting-edge technologies in the clinic, share data and results for each cancer patient in Canada and provide access to any clinical trial – no matter where patients live.

This will give us a true and accurate representation of cancer as it occurs in populations across Canada, says Pugh, and will help us get answers to questions such as:

“How often does this genetic change occur in the population? What treatments did cancer patients get that worked best for specific or rare molecular cancer subtypes?

“We have no way of knowing or asking for that information now.”

Pugh’s research is also focused on detecting cancer as early as possible – even before it is diagnosed.

While screening tests exist for some cancers – such as mammography, colonoscopy and prostate specific antigen – most cancers do not have a non-invasive, early screening option.

“That is worrisome for people, especially those at high-risk for less frequent but lethal cancers,” says Pugh. “We want to change that using annual blood tests. The vision is early cancer screening for everybody, for every cancer type.”

With OICR’s support, Pugh and co-lead Dr. Raymond Kim of the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre are leading CHARM, a study that will test the blood samples of people without cancer to look for early traces of the disease. Data from this study will help scientists track how blood and immune systems change as people develop cancer, and how different environments and stressors affect the cancer risk.

“If we want to increase the speed at which patients can benefit from new treatments, we have to promote cross-training between everyone in healthcare: clinicians, scientists, computer whizzes, lab technologists, patients,” says Pugh. “We urge everyone to step outside their comfort zones, work together on a science project, learn a new skill and to collaborate!”

Adapted from an original post by the University Health Network.

October 15, 2020

Q&A with Morgan Taschuk, OICR’s new Director of Genome Sequence Informatics

Morgan Taschuk, OICR’s Director of Genome Sequence Informatics (JP Moczulski/CP Images).

Morgan Taschuk reflects on a decade of supporting critical cancer research and on her new role as OICR’s Director of Genome Sequence Informatics

Cancer genomics research depends on infrastructure and analysis tools that collect, process, analyze and annotate vast quantities of valuable sequencing data. Behind these systems at OICR is a team of individuals dedicated to enabling cancer research discoveries. OICR is proud to announce that Morgan Taschuk will now lead this essential team as Director of Genome Sequence Informatics (GSI).

Here, she reflects on her new role and her outlook on the next few years.

Your behind-the-scenes work is essential to the cancer research we do at OICR. How would you describe your work?

Our team makes sequencing data analysis and management easier for researchers and clinicians in several different ways. We create and maintain the infrastructure and computational tools that researchers need to process, analyze and annotate sequencing data, so they can spend their time working on other challenging research questions.

GSI also offers expert bioinformatics support services directly to researchers to collaborate on challenging research projects. In addition, OICR Genomics is pursuing clinical accreditation this year and so we have a team of clinical genome interpreters who can issue reports on a patient’s unique genome. There’s a lot going on!

How has your work evolved since you’ve been at OICR?

I began at OICR nearly a decade ago, when most of our bioinformatics work was custom for every project, and our sequencing instruments produced a fraction of the data of instruments today. Any kind of automation was quite limited and the amount of analysis we could scale up was limited by the number of people we could hire. Back then, the biggest projects were analyzing human whole genomes for research and participating in international consortia.

In the last nine years, I’ve seen us scale up our sequencing and analysis capabilities, expand a fantastic team of highly educated experts from computer science through data analysts to clinical genome interpreters, and reinforce our reputation of excellence in bioinformatics and computational biology. We’re doing everything we were doing a decade ago plus much more. We sequence single cells, cell free and circulating tumour DNA, analyze immune profiles, participate in international consortia like ICGC-ARGO, contribute to SARS-CoV-2 projects, and will soon produce clinically accredited genome reports, all while still sequencing whole genomes for research.

Today, our team oversees around two petabytes of data, and runs about 3,000 workflows and about 1.8 terabytes of analysis, per day. Genome Sequence Informatics is a team of about 20 people, including bioinformaticians, software developers and engineers, currently supporting 155 research projects – and their resulting research discoveries – each year.

As the Director of Genome Sequence Informatics, what are you most looking forward to?

This new role allows me to focus on the bigger picture rather than on technical challenges. I see this as an opportunity to unify efforts across teams, departments, and across the institution. For example, if one team that we support is doing a task differently than another, I can help bring them together to work towards a common solution for everyone so we can learn from each other, maintain more consistent quality control, and make the best use of the resources and funds we have. I’m looking forward to more productive interactions with the phenomenal teams at OICR and with other organizations around the country and world.

What are your top priorities over the next couple of years?

My goal over the next few years is to share what we’ve created with the community while growing our network. We’ll continue to create solutions to fulfill the evolving needs of researchers and clinicians. We’ll continue to publish our code so other bioinformaticians can confirm what we’ve done and start their own analysis pipelines. We’ll publish protocols and guidelines that we’ve created for our clinically accredited analysis as well as our core assays. And we’ll share our challenges and solutions with the community so we can build on our collective expertise. In addition, we’ll reach out to other teams and organizations to collaborate and learn from them. The bioinformatics, software development, and clinical genomics communities have vast knowledge that we want to take advantage of, improve and share.

The next couple of years for GSI are going to be about collaborative, open science so the scientific and clinical communities can all benefit from the progress made by Genome Sequence Informatics and OICR as a whole.

September 24, 2020

Clinical study simplifies precision medicine for pancreatic cancer patients

Liver biopsy image from a patient with metastatic pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma. Dual immunohistochemistry reveals expression of GATA6 (brown) or CK5 (magenta) in distinct cells within the same neoplastic glands. (Credit: Clinical Cancer Research)

OICR-supported researchers discover new way to match advanced pancreatic cancer patients with the most appropriate treatment for their disease

Over the next 10 years, it is expected that pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) will become the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in North America. Precision medicine for PDAC is dependent on understanding which cancers will respond to treatment and which will not, but progress in this space has been limited by challenges including the complexity and severity of the disease. With more than 10 years of clinical and genomic data from the COMPASS trial, OICR-supported researchers have recently discovered a new, simplified way to match patients with the most appropriate treatment for their disease by measuring the expression of two genes, GATA6 and Keratin 5. Their discovery was recently published in Clinical Cancer Research.

Dr. Grainne O’Kane

“Even with current chemotherapies, patients diagnosed with PDAC have a median survival of one year,” says first author Dr. Grainne O’Kane, Medical Oncologist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. “This work is dedicated to extending the lives of these individuals.”

The study group discovered that by measuring the expression of GATA6 and Keratin 5 in a patient’s tumour sample, they can differentiate subtypes of advanced pancreatic cancer. The different subtypes of the disease tend to respond to treatments differently, so clinicians and patients could potentially use this information to help guide treatment selection.

More specifically, the group showed cancers with low GATA6 expression and high Keratin 5 expression tend to be resistant to mFFX, one of the usual chemotherapy regimens. The study highlights the need for new, effective treatments for these patients.

Dr. Sandra Fischer

“To discover these specific genes, we used sophisticated sequencing and in-depth analyses, but what we’ve found is that this classification can be done using simpler, widespread pathology techniques,” says senior author Dr. Sandra Fischer, Staff Pathologist at University Health Network. “This is promising because these discoveries can be easily applied in the clinic, and translated into patient care.”

The article was selected by Clinical Cancer Research to be highlighted on the front cover of the September 2020 issue and featured as one of the Issue Highlights.

Through the COMPASS trial, the researchers plan to further evaluate and validate this classification technique.

“I’m proud to be part of this team,” says Fischer. “Every step we take is a stride forward towards more precision and effective treatment for patients with this devastating disease.”

In December 2015, PanCuRx launched a clinical trial called Comprehensive Molecular Characterization of Advanced Ductal Pancreas Adenocarcinoma for Better Treatment Selection: A Prospective Study (COMPASS). The trial is designed to show that the sequencing of pancreatic tumours can be performed in a clinical setting and results delivered within a clinically-relevant timeframe to help guide treatment for individual patients. Read more on the latest COMPASS findings.

September 16, 2020

CanPath adds Saskatchewan cohort, all 10 provinces now represented

This post was edited and republished with the permission of CanPath.

CanPath is pleased to announce that, with funding support from the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, a Saskatchewan cohort will be developed and join the CanPath study. The Saskatchewan Partnership for Tomorrow’s Health (Saskatchewan PATH) will add approximately 9,000 participants to the existing cohort of over 330,000 Canadian participants. The addition of Saskatchewan means that all 10 Canadian provinces have now joined CanPath.

Saskatchewan PATH will create a platform and resource for fostering research in cancer and chronic disease prevention within the province. The Saskatchewan PATH study will be led by Scientific Director, Riaz Alvi and hosted by the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency.

“We are excited to officially welcome Mr. Alvi and the Saskatchewan PATH team to the CanPath partnership. We look forward to working together to develop a truly pan-Canadian study and sharing learnings from our other regional cohorts to support Saskatchewan PATH as they move forward,” says John McLaughlin, Executive Director of CanPath.

 “We are proud to be a part of this truly national program.  Saskatchewan holds a prominent place in the history of healthcare in Canada, and houses one of the world’s oldest cancer registries.  We are confident that the people of Saskatchewan will welcome this opportunity to participate in Saskatchewan PATH to help further a better understanding of cancer and other chronic diseases, and to assist with the future development of prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment programs.  There is exciting and highly rewarding work ahead of us.” says Riaz Alvi, Scientific Director of Saskatchewan PATH.

Saskatchewan has a unique and diverse population, with roughly half living in the province’s largest city, Saskatoon, or the provincial capital of Regina. The province’s economy is primarily associated with agriculture and more recently mining. The burden of cancer in Saskatchewan is significant with about 5,600 new cancers diagnosed in 2018 and just over 2,000 cancer deaths in the same year. In 2018, the number of people living with cancer that had been diagnosed within the last 5 years (5-year prevalence), was approximately 17,000 people.

“Since CanPath began almost 11 years ago, we have sought to ensure representation of all provinces. Now being able to include participants from the province of Saskatchewan fills an important gap, and builds upon the hard work of many of us who started and have maintained the CanPath cohort and vision since the beginning,” says Philip Awadalla, National Scientific Director for CanPath.

With CanPath’s guidance and support of the development of Saskatchewan PATH, the new cohort will benefit from the experience and lessons learned by CanPath’s other regional cohorts. Saskatchewan PATH joins the six regional cohorts that currently makeup CanPath: BC Generations Project, Alberta’s Tomorrow Project, Manitoba Tomorrow Project, Ontario Health Study, CARTaGENE (Quebec), and Atlantic PATH.

The development of Saskatchewan PATH will consist of three phases:

  • Phase I – Planning & Implementation (Present to March 2022)
  • Phase II – Participant Recruitment and Collection of Data and Biological Samples
  • Phase III – Maintenance and Use of Participant Data and Biological Samples

About CanPath

The Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow’s Health (CanPath) is Canada’s largest population health cohort and a national platform for health research. Comprised of more than 330,000 volunteer participants, CanPath is a unique platform that allows scientists to explore how genetics, environment, lifestyle and behaviour interact and contribute to the development of cancer and other chronic diseases. CanPath is hosted by the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health with national funding from the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer. The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) hosts CanPath data in a safe and secure environment. To learn more, visit www.canpath.ca.

The original post can be viewed here: https://canpath.ca/2020/09/canpath-completes-provincial-map-with-addition-of-a-saskatchewan-cohort/

August 31, 2020

Research from home: Kelly McDonald

Learn about the research that the Ontario Health Study has been doing during COVID-19 and how scientists have managed to do this work from home.

August 28, 2020

The tools behind the treatment: Building image-guided devices for more accurate and effective cancer procedures

OICR-supported researchers develop multi-purpose AI algorithm to help track needle placement and improve the accuracy of several image-guided treatment techniques

Dr. Derek Gillies and Jessica Rogers
Dr. Derek Gillies and Jessica Rodgers

Cancer patients often encounter many needles, some of which are used to collect tissue samples or deliver therapy directly to a tumour. Specialists who carry out these procedures are trained to place needles precisely in the correct location, but what if we could give these specialists a real-time GPS for needles? Would biopsies be more accurate? Could needle-related therapies be more effective?

Dr. Aaron Fenster’s lab is working to develop tools for these specialists to guide their needles and ultimately improve the accuracy of biopsies and therapies for patients. In their recent paper, published in Medical Physics, they describe their new deep learning method to track needles in ultrasound images in real time.

“It may be surprising to many individuals, but a lot of these procedures are still done based on skill alone and without image processing,” says Dr. Derek Gillies, medical physicist in training and co-first author of the paper. “We’re working to provide clinicians with tools so they can better see their needles in real time rather than going in blind for some procedures.”

The deep learning methods presented in this paper are applicable to many types of needle procedures, from biopsies – where a clinician draws a tumour sample from the body – to brachytherapy – where a clinician delivers radiotherapy directly to the tumour. The methods could also be applied to several cancer types including kidney cancer, liver cancer and gynecologic cancers.

“Developing artificial intelligence algorithms requires a lot of data,” says Jessica Rodgers, co-first author of the paper and PhD Candidate at Western University’s Robarts Research Institute. “We didn’t have a lot of imaging data from gynecologic procedures, so we decided to team up to develop a method that could work across several applications and areas of the body.”

“That’s the most exciting aspect of this effort,” says Gillies. “To our knowledge, we were the first to develop a generalizable needle segmentation deep learning method.”

Now, members of the Fenster lab are working to integrate these algorithms into the video software equipment used in the clinic.

“Our work is giving clinicians new tools, which can help them make these procedures more precise and more accessible,” says Rodgers. “These tools could ultimately help lead to fewer missed cancer diagnoses and fewer patients with cancer recurrence.”

Read more about OICR’s Imaging Program, or the latest OICR Imaging news.

July 23, 2020

Prevention before treatment: How an OICR investigator is shifting the paradigm of chronic disease in Canada

The BETTER Program for chronic disease prevention and screening now customized for young adults, women and cancer survivors across the country

Dr. Eva Grunfeld

Cancer doctors are extensively trained to find and treat the disease, but what about preventing cancer in the first place?

Dr. Eva Grunfeld is dedicated to making prevention a priority.

In 2012, Grunfeld established the BETTER Program and today, this Canada-wide initiative is expanding and adapting to serve more individuals across the country.

Since its inception, BETTER has trained nearly 250 health professionals to become Prevention Practitioners who specialize in chronic disease prevention and screening. These Prevention Practitioners work in the primary care setting to develop personalized “prevention prescriptions” that are tailored to each patient based on an in-depth analysis of their medical history, family history, lifestyle factors, and other risk factors for diabetes, cardiovascular disease and cancer.

Continue reading – Prevention before treatment: How an OICR investigator is shifting the paradigm of chronic disease in Canada
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