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By Kelly Foss and Jeff Green

Atlantic researchers – including those at Memorial University – are receiving $3.6 million in new provincial and national funding focused on cancer research.

Memorial is part of the Atlantic Cancer Consortium (ACC), a group of doctors and scientists at leading cancer centres, hospitals and research institutes in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Newfoundland & Labrador focused on providing improved cancer outcomes and advancing the quest to deliver precision medicine to cancer patients across the region.

Memorial’s group is led by Dr. Sherri Christian, an associate professor in the Department of Biochemistry, Faculty of Science, who is also cross-appointed with the Faculty of Medicine.

“Our goal is to harness the talent that already exists in the region to solve cancer problems that affect our diverse populations.” — Dr. Sherri Christian

The AAC will receive the funding over two years from the Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI), as well as Mitacs and partner organizations in Newfoundland and Labrador, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia to develop infrastructure to accelerate the implementation of precision medicine in the region.

“We are extremely happy to officially launch the ACC and see partners across the region come together for the first time ever to work on this important project,” said Dr. Christian. “Our goal is to harness the talent that already exists in the region to solve cancer problems that affect our diverse populations.”

Pilot project

The five projects that make up this pilot have been peer reviewed internationally and include the creation and support of existing provincial tumour biobanks (BioBank NL is led by Dr. John Thoms, an associate professor and radiation oncologist with the Faculty of Medicine, who is the provincial lead for Newfoundland and Labrador).

Additional projects are the development of a bioinformatics core that will facilitate data sharing between centres (co-led by Dr. Tom Belbin, associate professor of oncology, Faculty of Medicine and Dalhousie University); the enrichment and expansion of the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute trainee program for young investigators (also led by Dr. Christian); and the launch of two scientific research projects focusing on lung cancer (led by Dalhousie University) and colorectal cancer (led by Dr. Kara Laing, associate professor and chair of oncology, and Dr. Sheila Drover, associate professor of biomedical sciences, both with Faculty of Medicine).

Drs. Sevtap Savas, professor, human genetics and cross appointed with oncology, and Touati Benoukraf, assistant professor and Canada Research Chair in Bioinformatics for Personalized Medicine, both with Biomedical Sciences, Faculty of Medicine, lead one of the sub-projects in the colorectal cancer project, while numerous other Memorial University faculty members are also involved in the ACC.

“The lung cancer and colorectal cancer pilot projects will rely on the infrastructure and capacity built by the first three projects and were designed to target the two deadliest cancer types in the Atlantic Canada, for which the region has the highest rates in all of Canada,” noted Dr. Thoms.

Local impact, national reach

The creation of the ACC is allowing regional partners to advance cancer research while demonstrating the ability to work together with the hope of eventually joining the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network, a national network of cancer centres led by the TFRI and financed through contributions from the Government of Canada and partners from coast to coast.

“This exciting initiative further enhances Memorial’s global reputation for leading-edge precision medicine and health-related studies.” — Dr. Neil Bose

With $150 million from the Government of Canada, the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network is creating linkages between researchers and institutions across Canada, enabling cancer researchers to share data, knowledge and resources like never before. This is helping to create the Team Canada of cancer research, which will work together to advance precision medicine for all Canadians.

‘Global reputation’

“Through the Atlantic Cancer Consortium, our talented teams of researchers will undertake critical studies focused on improving health outcomes and treatments for patients in our province and beyond,” said Dr. Neil Bose, vice-president (research).

“This exciting initiative further enhances Memorial’s global reputation for leading-edge precision medicine and health-related studies. I congratulate Dr. Christian and all of the collaborators as they embark on this important work and look forward to seeing the results of their research.”

By joining the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network, the ACC will become one of several pan-Canadian consortia that make up the network. It will join the Quebec Cancer Consortium, the British Columbia Cancer Consortium and the Ontario-based Princess Margaret Cancer Consortium, which have already been designated network members, as well as the Prairies Cancer Research Consortium, which hopes to become operational later this year.

These regional consortia have already begun working together as a network to ensure that precision medicine is available to every Canadian, no matter where they live.

In Newfoundland and Labrador, partners and funders include Memorial University, the Faculty of Medicine, Eastern Health, Mitacs and the Department of Industry, Energy and Technology. Memorial is providing $92,271 in cash and in-kind contributions, while the provincial government is contributing $250,000 and Mitacs is providing $117,328 to the project. TFRI is providing funding over two years worth $1.5 million to the ACC, along with contributions from other national and regional partners.

About the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network

The Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network is the realization of a long-standing vision of the Terry Fox Research Institute. Inspired by Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope, the network represents a powerful collaborative platform that will close the gap between research in the lab and patient care in the clinic. Just as Terry Fox united Canadians with his run and dream to end cancer, the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network will unite cancer researchers to pursue that same goal with precision medicine.

About the Terry Fox Research Institute

Established in 2007, TFRI invests in world-class, collaborative cancer research teams and partnerships. Together with its research and funding partners, TFRI is working to inspire the transformation of cancer research in this country by bringing together leading cancer research and treatment organizations in Canada and empowering them under the framework of the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network and the Digital Health and Discovery Platform.

About Mitacs

Mitacs is a not-for-profit organization that fosters growth and innovation in Canada by solving challenges with research solutions from academic institutions. Mitacs is funded by the Government of Canada along with the Government of Alberta, the Government of British Columbia, Research Manitoba, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, Innovation PEI, the Government of Quebec, the Government of Saskatchewan, and the Government of Yukon.

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