Robarts discovery

Thursday, October 11, 2012


Could feeding cancer stop it from spreading?

Dr. Geoffrey Pickering is turning cancer research on its head by proposing that increasing the blood supply to a tumour (in effect, feeding the tumour) could actually prevent cancer from spreading to other parts of the body. Previous research had suggested a more intuitive route-that starving a tumour of its blood supply could prevent it from spreading, however that method has shown limited success to date.

“The concept of deliberately improving the blood supply to a tumour may sound counterintuitive, but we believe it has real potential to stop the tumour from spreading- to render it nonaggressive.” In fact, Dr. Pickering’s theory is that starving tumours may actually make them more aggressive, rather than less. With a $200,000 Innovation Grant from the Canadian Cancer Society, he will test his tumour-feeding idea which, if correct, could revolutionize the way cancer patients are treated.

Catching the spirit
The Smarter Prostate Imaging and Interventions Program

For Aaron Fenster, PhD, Imaging Director, Robarts Research Institute —the goal is always the same— improving medical outcomes for people. The world-renowned scientist recently received new funds from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research to further enhance imaging research in Ontario and to develop improved imaging tools for more personalized diagnosis and treatment of cancer patients world-wide.

The Smarter Prostate Imaging and Interventions (SPIRIT) program, led by Fenster, is intended to reduce over-diagnosis of prostate cancer and reduce illness caused by treatment.
Fenster will develop a suite of emerging imaging techniques to better distinguish the aggressiveness of the cancer.

Prostate cancer remains the third most common cause of cancer
death in Canadian men. Fenster’s improvements to prostate imaging will allow for a greater degree of personalization in diagnosis and ultimately more effective treatment.

Mapping the way to recovery

Research is now looking beyond spinal cord injuries in patients to better understand what is happening in the brain. Robert Bartha, PhD, is looking not only at the mechanisms of the spinal cord, but also, how the brain responds to injury, and whether there is an ability in the brain to compensate for that injury.

Spinal degeneration is an unavoidable part of aging. As it occurs, it can lead to compression of the spinal cord causing problems with dexterity, numbness in the hands, the ability to walk and, in some cases, bladder and bowel function. Bartha and his team are mapping the changes that occur in the motor cortex of the brain after spinal compression. These biochemical maps will help us determine whether or not the condition is reversible, and which patients may ultimately
benefit from treatment.

Guiding doctors to stop strokes and save patients
Prevention, treatment and rehabilitation

Dr. Henry Barnett’s extraordinary contributions to stroke research have changed the management of millions of stroke patients around the world. The implementation of his research
has prevented an unaccountable number of strokes and continues to save lives. And now he has teamed up with long-time colleague and fellow Robarts researcher, Dr. David Spence to help physicians help their patients.

They wrote and edited Stroke Prevention, Treatment and Rehabilitation, a comprehensive guide for doctors to help their patients minimize the risk of stroke. Stroke prevention, treatment and rehabilitation have come a long way in the time since Neurologist Dr. Spence began treating patients. Now doctors know “time is brain,” and the faster an ischemic stroke is treated, the less irreversible damage it will cause.

Taking off your SOX
How the protein SOX9 impedes spinal cord regeneration

Scientists believe the lack of cell regeneration after spinal cord injuries can be attributed to the scar tissue that forms and inhibits nerve growth at the site of injury. Arthur Brown, PhD, received a grant from Canadian Institutes of Health Research to study a protein he has identified that may control regeneration in the injured spinal cord.

Called SOX9, this protein acts as a kind of construction foreman, who coordinates the formation of unwanted scar tissue, which impedes spinal cord regeneration following injury. SOX9 executes two functions detrimental to nerve recovery: increasing activity of genes that build a ‘brick wall’ of scar tissue, inhibiting nerve re-growth; and decreasing activity of genes that construct the ‘scaffold’ upon which damaged nerves re-grow and thrive.

Ultimately, Brown hopes his discovery will lead to the development of a drug that will actually change the composition of the scar tissue that forms after spinal cord injury, thereby promoting regeneration of damaged nerves and helping patients heal.

Promising new therapeutic target for aggressive breast cancer

Lynne-Marie Postovit, PhD, has identified a new therapeutic target for advanced breast cancer which has shown tremendous promise. It has been determined that breast cancers, specifically those very aggressive, invasive breast cancers that spread, express an embryonic protein called Nodal and the expression of this protein is correlated with more blood vessels in the tumour. The young awardwinning scientist and her team have shown that if they target this embryonic protein, blood vessels will collapse within the tumour, leading to decreased oxygen levels and tumour cell death.

“Ultimately it would be nice to target Nodal in patients who already have quite advanced, well-vascularized tumours as a new option for therapy,” says Daniela Quail, first author
on the research and a PhD candidate in the Postovit lab. “Currently, patients like this don’t have many options.” Thanks to research being done in the Postovit lab there may soon be one more.

Improving motor function for those living with parkinson’s disease

Marco Prado, PhD, and Vania Prado, PhD, and a team of researchers have demonstrated that elimination of one of the neurotransmitters in the part of the brain associated with Parkinson’s disease may improve brain function without major adverse effects. By using state-of-the-art genetic techniques the researchers found that the elimination of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine boosted the actions of another neurotransmitter, dopamine. This may have important applications to Parkinson’s disease because increased function of dopamine has been previously shown to improve motor symptoms in the disease. The hope is to eventually produce a drug to block acetylcholine release selectively in the brain. If their suspicions are correct, this should help in Parkinson’s disease by blocking the activity of these neurons without having any other negative effects on brain function.

Surprising research findings
Vitamin B therapy may have a negative impact on kidneys

The use of vitamin B to stop kidney damage in people with diabetes needs a closer look, and those with kidney damage now taking high vitamin B doses, should stop. That is the advice from Dr. David Spence who found surprising results in a study looking at the effects of vitamin B therapy on diabetic nephropathy. Diabetic nephropathy is kidney disease or damage that is a complication which affects over 40 per cent of diabetics.

Dr. Spence began a study of people with kidney disease, anticipating that people who received high dose vitamin B therapy (folic acid, vitamin B6 and vitamin B12) could see improved kidney function and suffered from fewer heart attacks and stroke, compared with those on placebos.

What he learned was that the opposite was true. Those people receiving high dose vitamin B therapy had significantly greater worsening of kidney function; they also had twice as many heart attack and stroke incidents.

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