Three cancer research projects earn Seeds4Hope grants

Sabeena Misra

Developing a cancer vaccine, devising more effective treatments for brain cancer and finding the causes of colorectal cancer in young patients are the three award-winning local research projects for the Seeds4Hope grant program.

The three project leaders, Dr. Swati Kulkarni, Dr. Sabeena Misra and Dr. John Trant, were announced as the 2018 winners at the Windsor Regional Cancer Centre Wednesday.

Over the past nine years, the Windsor Cancer Centre Foundation has awarded close to $2.2 million to 30 local research projects through the Seeds4Hope initiative.

This year’s grant recipients each receive $90,000 over two years.

“This was an incredible year with triple the number of applications from any previous year,” said grant administrator Michael Dufresne. “I couldn’t be more pleased with the ones that were selected. There were so many that deserved funding and that is such a statement to the quality of the work being done by our local researchers.”

A normal year would see an external peer review of six to eight projects but this year’s panel entertained 17 proposals.

The spike in applications is due to the work of the Windsor Cancer Research Group which holds four think tanks a year to bring scientists, researchers, students and medical professionals together to brainstorm projects and advance them forward for funding.

Misra describes her work with young adult onset colorectal cancer as very close to her heart.

“Every patient that I diagnose, it becomes my emotional battle with them,” she said.

Statistics from the Canadian Cancer Society reveal 28,600 Canadians were diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2017. Misra says while there has been a decline in numbers for those over 50 years old because of excellent screening guidelines, “the incidence of sporadic colorectal cancer in young adults has been on the rise.

“We don’t know why,” Misra said. “That’s why this project is so important. Colorectal cancer is highly curable if it’s identified early. Every time a young person is diagnosed, I’m always thinking, we have to do something. It’s not only their fight, it’s ours.”

Seeds4Hope winner Dr. Sabeena Misra at her office on March 28, 2018. Nick Brancaccio / Windsor Star

She said the award’s timing was fitting since March is colorectal cancer awareness month.

Trant is looking to design a vaccine as a complimentary therapy to existing treatments for lung cancer.

“This (Seeds4Hope) makes it all possible,” he said. “This is a huge game-changer.”

Trant is researching methods to help the immune system identify the unique sugars that attach themselves to cancer cells.

“The immune system doesn’t do a good job of recognizing these sugars,” Trant said. “We’re looking for a way to tell your immune system that thing isn’t you, take care of it. We want to put a neon sign around the sugar and it’s saying, ‘look at me, look at me, I’m evil.’”

Kulkarni will use the grant for her work with brain tumours. She is looking to accelerate the testing of new promising drugs and optimize individual treatment by studying and treating tumour samples within a lab setting.

The Canadian Cancer Society notes 3,000 Canadians were diagnosed with a brain tumour in 2017 and 2,400 of them have died.

“That is horrible,” Kulkarni said. “The survival rate is 12 to 15 months which is really dismal. We want to improve patient care and the outcomes. We want to use the right drug for the right patient.”

Source: The Windsor Star

Also see CTV News for video capture of the event.