New study using nuclear medicine and rare isotopes in the fight against cancer


By Lawson Research Communications

Researchers at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry and Lawson Health Research Institute are working to create rare isotopes that could potentially be used as an important tool to help treat cancer.

Currently, radiation therapy is a staple in cancer treatment, with approximately 50 per cent of cancer patients receiving radiation at some point in their cancer journey. Although a very effective tool, traditional radiation therapies rely on intense beams of energy. These beams can kill cancer cells, but their use is limited to select locations, making them less suited for difficult-to-treat metastatic cancers that have spread to multiple sites.

“Cancer treatment has evolved over the years with targeted drugs that go straight to the cancer and advanced radiation therapy. However, radiation comes from an external source that can damage other areas in the body,” said Dr. Len Luyt, Lawson Scientist and Professor at Schulich Medicine. “We are now working to advance treatment further by combining radiation and targeted drug therapy.”

The therapies work like a homing device using specially designed molecules to seek out and deliver radioactive isotopes directly to cancer cells, wherever they might be in the body.

Len-Luyt-300x300.jpgDr. Len Luyt, Lawson Scientist and Professor at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry (Photo supplied)

The multidisciplinary research team involves researchers at Lawson, Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, University of British Columbia, BC Cancer, TRIUMF, Simon Fraser University, Université Laval, Université de Sherbrooke, University of Toronto, and University of Alberta.

“This is the holy grail of cancer treatment. These disease-targeting molecules circulate throughout the body, binding tightly to cancer cells in order to eliminate them with a highly localized blast of energy,” said principal investigator Dr. François Bénard, Professor of Radiology and Associate Dean at UBC’s Faculty of Medicine, and Senior Executive Director of the BC Cancer Research Institute.

The London, Ontario team will focus on developing the radiopharmaceuticals at labs in the London Regional Cancer Program at LHSC, the Cyclotron located at St. Joseph’s Health Care London, and at Western.

“The radiopharmaceuticals we are designing will be very specific to certain receptor proteins that are on cancer cells and not elsewhere on the body. This allows us to bring the isotopes to the cancer cells and clear it from the body, so you have less side effects in other areas,” said Luyt. “This approach is showing promise in prostate and pancreatic cancer and now this team-based approach is looking at targeting any metastatic cancer.”

This collaborative research project has received $23.7 million in federal funding through the New Frontiers Research Fund (NFRF) over six years.

“We will establish Canada as a world leader in the field of nuclear medicine and ensure Canadian patients are the ones who benefit,” added Bénard. “By developing these medicines in Canada and bringing them into local clinical trials, we will ensure Canadians have access to innovative cancer treatments sooner.”

The team hopes to bring multiple drug candidates into clinical trials in the coming years with the ultimate goal of developing an effective treatment for metastatic cancer patients.

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Web: Research Group of Len Luyt (