Seeds4Hope funds three new cancer research projects in Windsor


Three local cancer researchers are getting a total of $228,000 for promising projects they hope will:

  • Bring bladder cancer detection “out of the dark ages;”
  • Explain the role an essential protein called PLK4 plays in the development of cancers;
  • And measure how Ashtanga yoga improves the psychological, heart and nervous system functions in breast cancer survivors.

“This just totally blows me away,” retired biochemist Michael Dufresne said Wednesday as he helped announced this year’s recipients of awards from Seeds4Hope, which during its eight years of existence has passed out almost $2 million in startup funding to 27 new and innovative cancer research projects.

They’re all based out of Windsor, conducted primarily by University of Windsor scientists, their graduate students, and physicians at the cancer centre.

“I’m almost emotional at what has happened — the quality of the research, the collaboration that is going on,” said Dufresne, who has administrated Seeds4Hope since its inception.

The research has produced 20 peer-reviewed publications, 11 known research awards, three patents, a startup company, approval for three clinical trials and the creation of the Windsor Cancer Research Group.

“And such a significant impact to patients,” said Heather Pratt, the university’s executive director of research and innovation.

U of W biologist John Hudson, who researches cancer at the molecular level, said Seeds4Hope provides the money that gets a new project off the ground.

“There’s no way you could do without it,” said Hudson, who was awarded $80,000 over two years to study the roles that PLK4 and other proteins play in the development of various cancers. The research has the potential to find new markers for early detection of certain blood cancers.

“We all know that every cancer is different,” Hudson said. “The more we know about them, the better the chance we have of dealing with them.”

Seeds4Hope is awarding $77,236 over two years for a project that focuses on bladder cancer, the fifth most common cancer in Canada which has a higher-than-average prevalence in Windsor and Essex County. Most patients get the non-invasive version of the cancer, which is much less serious to treat but has an 80 per cent recurrence rate. And 25 per cent of those cases will go on to develop into much more serious invasive bladder cancer, that may require removal of the bladder or may progress to incurable metastatic cancer.

Currently there’s no way to predict who will be among that 25 per cent, said Dr. Sindu Kanjeekal, a hematologist and medical oncologist at the cancer centre who is leading the project.

The research will involve taking samples of patients with high-grade non-invasive bladder cancer as well as patients whose high-grade non-invasive cancer has developed into invasive cancer and perform genomic (DNA) testing to find a signature that predicts who is going to progress to invasive bladder cancer.

By finding a way to predict this, they’re hoping to reduce the number of invasive and uncomfortable scopes, called cystoscopies, that doctors now employ to detect tumours in the bladder.

“We hope to lift bladder cancer detection and treatment out of the dark ages,” said Kanjeekal.

The third award of $70,680 went to U of W psychologist Josee Jarry, who’ll be studying how breast cancer survivors respond when they do Ashtanga yoga, a vigorous form of yoga that involves physical exercise, meditation and controlled breathing. Funding for Seeds4Hope is provided by the Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation, which since 1996 has raised more than $26 million to improve cancer care in this region.

Lisa Porter, a U of W biologist who has received Seeds4Hope funding in previous years, said research takes an element of risk, but that risk provides a chance to move forward with advances. As a result, the overall survival rate has improved to around 66 per cent, compared to a survival rate in the 30s in the 1950s. Now the public talks about finding a cure for cancer.

“That’s not the way in reality it’s going to work because cancer is not one disease, one process that’s gone wrong,” she said.

“Slow and steady wins the race. In cancer, I think that’s the case.”

Source: The Windsor Star