Could “Feeding” Cancer Stop It From Spreading?

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Canadian Cancer Society Gives Green Light to Innovative Research Ideas

Society announces $4.5 million in new funding for 23 high-risk, high-reward innovation grants

A London, Ontario, cardiologist 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 (known as anti-angiogenesis) has shown limited success to date.

In fact, Dr Geoffrey 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.

"A key reason why cancer exerts its deadly toll is because it can spread to different organs," says Dr Pickering, a cardiologist and professor of medicine at the University of Western Ontario. "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 non aggressive."

Dr Pickering and his team will test the theory on mice with various types of cancers, including breast, lung, brain, and colon. Using specialized microscope techniques and MRI technology, they will observe blood flow in the mice to determine if the "overfed" tumours become "calm" and therefore do not spread to other organs.

In addition, says Dr Pickering, there are other potential benefits to this method. "By opening up the blood supply, cancer drugs may be able to reach the entire tumour and thus be more effective. As well, radiation therapy works better when tumours receive a good amount of oxygen through the blood," he says.

Innovation Grants: "Creative, unorthodox ideas for solving cancer problems in different ways"

Dr Pickering, who has many years experience as a cardiologist and scientist, has never applied his research ideas to fighting cancer before. "I had been mulling this idea over in my head for a while but when I saw the description of the Canadian Cancer Society Innovation Grants it really caught my eye," he says. "They were looking for scientists with creative, unorthodox ideas for solving cancer problems in different ways. And so I applied for funding and I'm elated that I can now go ahead with this research."

These are the Canadian Cancer Society's first-ever Innovation Grants. The goal of this new program is to support unconventional concepts, approaches or methodologies to address problems in cancer research.

All 23 new projects include elements of creativity, curiosity, investigation, exploration and opportunity. The projects were ranked according to their potential for "high reward" - to significantly impact our understanding of cancer and generate new approaches to combat the disease by introducing novel ideas into use or practice. As competition for grant funding increases worldwide, peer review panels have become more conservative and risk-averse, emphasizing feasibility more than innovation.

"We are thrilled to be able to fund these outstanding, novel projects that show incredible creativity and great potential for their impact in the fight against cancer," says Dr Christine Williams, Vice-President, Research, Canadian Cancer Society. "We await the results of these studies with tremendous excitement."

It is hoped this grant program will accelerate the introduction of innovation into the entire cancer research system and contribute to the scientific idea pipeline. Grant budgets may be up to $100,000 per year and a maximum of $200,000 per grant. Funding is provided to support the direct costs of research, including supplies, salaries, and equipment associated with the proposed work.