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OVC Profs Get Grant to Improve Cancer Treatment

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

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University of Guelph scientists working to solve a cancer treatment challenge have received nearly $200,000 from the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS).

Brenda Coomber and Alicia Viloria-Petit, professors in U of G’s Department of Biomedical Sciences, are studying the effectiveness of the drug Avastin in treating colorectal cancer. The drug starves cancer cells of their blood supply. But the therapy doesn’t work for everyone, and doctors cannot tell which patients will benefit.

“This funding helps us work towards solving a problem for cancer patients in an unconventional way,” said study leader Coomber, who is also the co-director of the Institute for Comparative Cancer Investigation at Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College.

Colon cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer-related deaths in Canada. An estimated 3,250 Ontarians died of colorectal cancer in 2011 and 8,100 were diagnosed with the disease.

Coomber and Viloria-Petit will study how to identify which colorectal cancer patients will respond and how to make the drug more effective. They will focus on two proteins affecting blood vessels and tumour susceptibility to the drug.

Their innovative research approach earned high marks in the CCS’s first innovation grants competition. The results were announced today.

The new program supports unconventional concepts, approaches or methodologies to address problems in cancer research. Coomber was among 23 researchers nationwide who received innovation grants totalling more than $4.5 million.

“We’re funding unique and creative research projects to stimulate new approaches in cancer research, the kind that have the potential to turn cancer on its head,” said Lorraine Skarratt, manager of the cancer society’s Wellington County unit.

In total, Coomber has received more than $1.1 million from the Canadian Cancer Society. Previously, it supported her research on ways to prevent development of blood vessels feeding tumours and to understand and halt genetic changes leading to progression in colon cancer.

Viloria-Petit has received government grants for her breast cancer research. She studies how cancer cells move from a primary site to other sites in the body.

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