Dr. Peter Dirks

Feb 2016

Dream Team gets $11.7 million to fight brain cancers

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A “Dream Team” of top Canadian scientists, led by two outstanding figures in stem cell research, is launching a new attack on brain cancers.…

A “Dream Team” of top Canadian scientists, led by two outstanding figures in stem cell research, is launching a new attack on brain cancers.

The team, announced today in Toronto, will receive $11.7 million over four years from Stand Up To Cancer Canada (SU2C), Genome Canada, the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, the Cancer Stem Cell Consortium, and Ontario Institute for Cancer Research.

Dr. Peter Dirks, a neurosurgeon at Toronto’s SickKids Hospital who first identified cancer stem cells in brain tumours, leads the team while Dr. Sam Weiss, director of the University of Calgary’s Hotchkiss Brain Institute is co-leader. A member of the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Science Advisory Council, Dr. Weiss discovered adult neural stem cells.

“Brain tumours in children and adults contain a small number of cells called stem cells that resist treatment and continually regenerate, driving tumour growth and recurrence after initial responses to treatment,” Dr. Dirks said in a news release. “Our team will conduct multiple analyses of brain cancer stem cells, profiling their biological makeup to identify drugs that are likely to block the uncontrolled growth of the tumours, and carry out clinical trials across Canada to find the safest and most effective drugs to treat these cancers.”

Team members include:

  • Dr. Cheryl H. Arrowsmith, the University Health Network (UHN) in Toronto (structural and chemical biology);
  • Dr. Gary D. Bader, University of Toronto;
  • Dr. Amy A. Caudy, University of Toronto;
  • Dr. Nada Jabado, McGill University;
  • Dr. Mathieu Lupien, UHN;
  • Dr. Marco A. Marra, British Columbia Cancer Agency Branch in Vancouver;
  • Dr. Trevor Pugh, UHN;
  • Dr. Michael Salter, The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute; and
  • Dr. Michael D. Tyers, University of Montreal.

“Brain tumours are not as common as many other forms of cancer, but they are devastating, especially when they strike the very young,” said Dr. Phillip A. Sharp, a Nobel laureate and professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.  Dr Sharp, who co-chairs the SU2C Scientific Advisory Committee, said the Dream Team “will bring new insights to brain cancer research, which has been an underfunded area.”

Co-chair Dr. Alan Bernstein, President & CEO of CIFAR (Canadian Institute for Advanced Research), said the Dream Team builds on Canada’s research strengths. “Stem cells and cancer stem cells were discovered in Canada,” said Dr. Bernstein, who also chairs the Canadian Stem Cell Foundation’s Board of Directors. “By bringing together a top-flight team of scientists and clinicians from across Canada and applying what we have learned about brain cancer and cancer stem cells, our hope is that novel treatments will be developed.”

Science Minister Dr. Kirsty Duncan welcomed the new Dream Team: “In supporting the Dream Team, the Government of Canada is investing in promising discoveries that could improve the outcome of patients who live with brain cancer.”

Her sentiments were shared by Health Minister Dr. Jane Philpott: “Canada is a leader in stem cell research, and the Dream Team is carrying on this proud tradition,” said Dr. Jane Philpott, Minister of Health.


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