Researcher awarded Movember funding, grows 'Mo' for the cause

(Edmonton) A University of Alberta biomedical engineer has a new reason to take part in the annual Movember cancer fundraiser—he has been awarded funding that could advance prostate cancer detection and treatment.

Roger Zemp, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been awarded nearly $200,000 in research funding through a Prostate Cancer Canada Movember Discovery Grant.

“This funding is greatly appreciated. I’m thankful to all of the Movember supporters and Prostate Cancer Canada,” he said.

The funding will help Zemp and his team to develop medical imaging technologies that will enable doctors to better understand a patient’s health and come up with improved treatment plans.

“The idea is to help doctors see cancers better,” said Zemp. “Right now doctors can have a hard time visualizing where cancers are and predicting aggressiveness.”

Using photoacoustic imaging, Zemp and his team are able to capture crisp images of small blood vessels that grow around tumours, and more precisely locate a tumour. This visual information should help doctors to take biopsies of the tumour and to treat it with less impact on non-cancerous tissue nearby.

Zemp’s group is also researching how intense ultrasound waves directed at a tumour can cause small vesicles from cells—not the cancer itself—to be released into a person’s bloodstream. When this happens, blood tests can reveal more detailed characteristics about the cancer, including how aggressive it is. Using that information, doctors and patients can settle on a course of action.

“Our idea is that you can apply ultrasound waves to a tumour to release these biomarkers, which gives you a molecular profile of the tumour. If this pans out, it could be very powerful.”

Detailed information about a tumour’s location and characteristics could convince patients with prostate cancer to move ahead with early treatment, rather than adopting a wait-and-see strategy.

“A lot of men are afraid of the possible side-effects of treatment,” said Zemp. “Some men, if they knew there would be no side-effects of some therapies, would opt for local, direct treatment. Right now, we’re lacking the tools to make the best clinical decisions, and that’s stressful for patients and clinicians.”

Zemp’s research is also funded by the Canadian Cancer Society, the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, the Alberta Cancer Foundation, nanoBridge, and Alberta Innovates Technology Futures. His research group works in collaboration with several other groups across campus—partnerships he says are the key to improving patient health.

“I consider myself a biomedical engineer, and we need teams of people working together if we are going to beat cancer. We need clinicians and cancer biologists, yes, but we need engineers too.”

Visit the ZempUofA Movember team page