WCRG Think Tanks initiate unique research relationships

By: Sara Elliott

The Windsor Cancer Research Group (WCRG) Think Tanks series is looking for new participants to continue expanding their cancer research. Lisa Porter, WCRG Scientific Director, says the collaborative sessions provide an opportunity for researchers, clinicians and various community members to brainstorm on cancer research projects.

“It is about enhancing collaborations, building teams through networking, and stimulating ideas with the goal of submitting grant proposals that will result in real research,” says Dr. Porter, biology professor.

The quarterly Cancer Research Think Tank series was launched in April 2016 to present and discuss cancer research topics and identify collaborative teams who could work together and bring these projects forward for funding.

Porter says one unexpected partnering resulted in two professors collaborating on a cross-disciplinary study. Psychology professor Josée Jarry and kinesiology professor Cheri McGowan received a $70,000 Seeds4Hope grant from the Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation to test how survivors of breast cancer will respond — physically and psychologically — to Ashtanga yoga.

“Dr. Jarry and Dr.McGowan met at a Think Tank and both were previously hesitant about having anything to contribute – but these are relatable sessions open to anyone; students, researchers, clinicians, community members – we don’t just want to connect the usual suspects because you never know what creative spark will get the next unique funding opportunity off the ground.”

Computer science professor Luis Rueda says he works with biologists who generate mountains of data when breaking down Ribonucleic acid (RNA), the molecule needed to express genes. His research team writes algorithms to help pre-process the data and obtain meaningful biomarkers.

“One of my graduate students returned from a Think Tank session last year having sparked a new proposal to study bladder cancer – that resulted in a two-year, $80,000 grant,” says Dr. Rueda. “That proposal started through Think Tank, so it is important to keep this multidisciplinary collaboration so we can see what others are doing.”

Chemistry and Biochemistry professor John Trant moved to Windsor a year ago to take a position at UWindsor. He says he went to his first think tank as a presenter and was impressed with how it quickly connected him with all the right people needed to help him with his molecular research.

“The diversity of participants is great because as a researcher you have to be able to explain your ideas and answer questions, and it is useful to be challenged by those outside of your discipline,” says Dr. Trant.

He says the relationships he formed with American and Canadian clinicians from the Think Tanks, could help his medical research go beyond publication and academic curiosity and turn into developing medicine that could help people.

“To get the molecules I make to clinical trial is extremely difficult and as a newcomer to Windsor, it wouldn’t be possible without the connections I’ve forged with these clinicians, I think this really speaks to the strength of science at UWindsor,” says Dr. Trant.

The WCRG was initiated by the University of Windsor and Windsor Regional Hospital to bring together local researchers and healthcare professionals to strengthen local cancer research programs and bridge collaborations with neighbouring cancer centres.

The next Think Tank takes place Friday, April 7, 2017 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. on campus in the EPICentre, 2nd Floor. For more information or to sign up contact Karen Metcalfe, WCRG Coordinator, karenmet@uwindsor.ca. RSVP by April 3, 2017