Province ups ante in cancer fight

(Edmonton) The instance of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis is just about equal to the disease’s mortality rate. Looking to bolster those odds and increase the outcomes across all types of cancer diagnosis, Alberta Innovates – Health Solutions, together with the Alberta Cancer Foundation, has announced $3 million in funding for 13 University of Alberta studies.

One of the award winners is Jennifer Spratlin, a gastrointestinal cancer specialist at the U of A, who was awarded two grants worth more than $300,000 for clinical studies focused on better treatments for pancreatic cancer.

“The five-year survival rate for this cancer is about five per cent,” said Spratlin. “That means this cancer is fatal for 95 per cent of people. We absolutely want to offer better outcomes for our patients.”

Spratlin’s clinical research team is spearheading a clinical trial in several cities across Canada, aiming to enrol 150 patients over the next two years. The trial will compare two existing treatments for pancreatic cancer.

Spratlin’s team will test patients’ tumours to identify whether they have a specific transporter protein that opens the door for a common chemotherapy to attack pancreatic cancer cells. She says she hope the trial results will allow physicians to see if this protein better determines what chemotherapy drug is best suited for use in each individual patient.

“We want to know how we can better personalize treatment for pancreatic cancer, both when we are trying to cure it and for those people who, unfortunately, have seen the disease spread and are just trying to extend their life,” said Spratlin. “It would be nice to have a test that we could do upfront for people that allows us to give patients the right treatment for them and potentially not be expose them to a drug that won’t work for them.”

Although pancreatic cancer is only the 10th most common form of cancer, it is the fourth leading cause of cancer death. Spratlin says that surviving pancreatic cancer is dependent on whether or not the cancer is operable, which occurs in just 20 per cent of diagnoses. After that, survival is contingent on the effectiveness of chemotherapy, but the chances of surviving past five years are still slim.

Spratlin says a team of researchers at both the Cross Cancer Institute and the Department of Oncology at the U of A Hospital have spent years working towards these clinical trials, performing all the pre-clinic work, which included identifying the transporter protein.

“It’s really nice to see the work that truly is from the bench to the bedside is being done, all at the University of Alberta,” said Spratlin, who credits much of the background work to her mentors, university oncologists Carol Cass and John Mackey. “Collaboration is so important. If we don’t use what they’re doing, we’re walking similar paths, but you need that cross point where really important key discoveries occur.”

All told, AIHS and Alberta Cancer Foundation, in partnership with Alberta Health and Wellness, awarded $7 million in research funding spread over three years to 27 projects province wide.

Alberta Cancer Operating Grants
($150,000/year for three years)

Robert Ingham, professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology - The Function and Regulation of JunB in ALK+ ALCL.

Kurian Joseph, assistant professor of radiation oncology, Department of Oncology - Preventing or Reducing Acute and Late Effects of Radiation Therapy in Patients with Solid Tumors. Advanced Technology Meets Clinical Outcomes.

Roger Leng, professor in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology - Molecular Mechanism of Negative Regulation of Tumor Suppressor p53.

Alberta Cancer High Risk for High Returns Grants
(Up to $150,000/year for two years)

David Evans, professor and chair in the Department Medical Microbiology and Immunology - Tuning the Oncolytic Properties of Vaccinia Virus through Mutation of Proteins Catalyzing Nucleotide Biosynthesis.

Michael Sawyer, associate professor, Department of Oncology - Mechanisms of Tyrosine Kinase Inhibitor Toxicity.

Jennifer Spratlin, assistant professor, Department of Oncology - A Multicentre, Randomized, Open Label, Phase III Study of Gemcitabine Versus FOLFOX in the First Line Setting for Metastatic Pancreatic Cancer Patients Using Upfront Human Equilibrative Nucleoside Transporter 1 (hENT1) Biomarker Testing.

Hasan Uludag, professor in the Department of Chemical and Materials Engineering - siRNA Based Molecular Therapy for Reversal of Drug Resistance in Leukemia.

Frank Wuest, associate professor, Department of Oncology - In Vivo Chemistry for Pretargeted Molecular Imaging and Therapy of Cancer.

Alberta Cancer Bridge, Pilot and Limited Term Project Grants
($50,000 for one year)

YangXin Fu, professor in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology -Role of Notch in Ovarian Cancer Stem Cells.

Andrew Shaw, professor, Department of Oncology - Bcl10: A Novel Role in DNA Repair.

D. Alan Underhill, associate professor, Department of Oncology - Regulation of PAX3 Structure and Activity in Melanoma. 

Robert Ingham, professor in the Department of Medical Microbiology and Immunology - Does the Granzyme B Serine Protease Contribute to the Invasiveness or Tumorigenicity of Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma-positive, Anaplastic Large Cell Lymphoma?

Oncologist Jennifer Spratlin - Biomarker Directed Adjuvant Therapy for Resected Pancreas Cancer.