Canadian pancreatic cancer researchers, including those at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, are joining forces under a Terry Fox Research Institute initiative to help tackle this deadly disease.
"For many years it's been hopeless from a patient perspective, and we are hoping to help shift this," says Dr. Daniel Renouf of BC Cancer Agency and the University of British Columbia (UBC) who, along with Dr. David Schaeffer of the Vancouver General Hospital and UBC, is leading a $5-million pan-Canadian, precision medicine initiative.
In addition to Drs. Renouf and Schaeffer, Principal Investigators of the study include Drs. Jennifer Knox and Steven Gallinger, who are Cancer Clinical Research Unit (CCRU) members at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.
A lack of early detection tests. Few known symptoms. Very limited treatment options. No known biomarkers that can be used to direct therapy. These are among the clinical challenges team EPPIC, short for Enhanced Pancreatic Cancer Profiling for Individualized Care, is tackling over the next five years to improve personalized treatments for patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, a disease with a five-year survival rate of just nine per cent.
"Our project focuses on metastatic cancer versus surgically resectable primary tumours, because this is the clinical problem we see most often," says Dr. Schaeffer, noting a priority is to discern if the metastatic and primary tumour differ in their genetic make-up.
Genomic sequencing and bioinformatics analyses of patient tumours will be conducted at the OICR and the BC Cancer Genome Sciences Centre.
This project is currently under way in Toronto and Vancouver, and is expanding to include up to 400 eligible patients in Montreal, Kingston, Ottawa, Calgary and Edmonton. More than 100 patients from the McCain Centre for Pancreatic Cancer at the Princess Margaret have already participated in the COMPASS trial, initially funded by Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), Pancreatic Cancer Canada (PCC) and The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. Early results were published in late 2017 in Clinical Cancer Research.
"Only with national collaboration can we move forward at pace with global understanding of this disease and make a significant contribution," says Dr. Knox, Principal Investigator of COMPASS and co-Director of the McCain Centre.
Many of the EPPIC team's investigators are members of PancOne, an initiative of PCC that brings together pancreas researchers from across the country. The foundational funding from PCC has also been integral in establishing a strong framework from which to build pan-Canadian collaboration.
Applications are now open for the Vector Institute’s 2018 Deep Learning and Reinforcement Learning Summer School, which take place from July 25 to August 3, 2018 in Toronto.
This ten-day lecture series includes 6 days of deep learning and 3 days of reinforcement learning, and features talks by leading researchers in these fields from around the world.
Canadian and international students and researchers—in academia, industry, health or elsewhere—are welcome to apply. A limited number of spots will be held for applicants from the Vector Institute’s industry sponsors and health partners. A limited number of spots will also be reserved for partners of the Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute (amii) and the Institut québécois d’intelligence artificielle (MILA) as partners under the CIFAR pan-Canadian AI strategy.
The application form went live on Friday March 2, 2018, and the deadline to apply is March 26, 2018 at 3:59:59 PM EST.
Reading is a gift that keeps on giving. As soon as we learn how to read, we keep reading every day for the rest of our lives. We use this skill to learn, relax and communicate with others. And when we lose the ability to read, it negatively impacts our emotional wellbeing and quality of life.
“Central vision loss can impair a person’s ability to read. It is characterized by the appearance of a blurred or distorted area in the center of a person’s field of vision. This area can become so blurred that a person’s central vision is completely eliminated,” explains Dr. Tarita-Nistor, a Scientific Associate at the Krembil Research Institute.
Recently, a team led by Drs. Tarita-Nistor and Esther González (Affiliate Scientist at Krembil) evaluated the effectiveness of two new measures of reading performance—the reading accessibility index (ACC) and a quality of reading grid—in patients with central vision loss. The ACC assesses a person’s ability to read text sizes found in everyday life, such as those in newspapers and books, whereas the quality of reading grid classifies the speed at which a person reads different sizes of text.
The study included 24 participants with normal vision and 61 patients with central vision loss. The researchers used a variety of reading parameters, such as the maximum reading speed and the smallest print size that can be read, to calculate each participant’s ACC score and assess their reading ability using the quality of reading grid.
The researchers found that the ACC scores of people with normal vision were consistently high and strongly associated with indicators of good reading performance. Whereas, the scores were significantly lower in patients with central vision loss and strongly associated with indicators of poor reading performance. They also showed that the quality of reading grid provided a better understanding of the type of reading impairment affecting each patient, suggesting that it may be a good tool to evaluate improvement after reading rehabilitation.
These findings show that the ACC is a good measure of overall reading performance in patients with central vision loss and, when combined with the quality of reading grid, provides detailed information about a patient’s reading impairments. These new measures could not only improve the diagnosis of reading impairments in patients with central vision loss, but also help researchers develop more effective rehabilitation strategies for it.
This work was supported by an anonymous donor, the Vision Sciences Research Program and the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation.
Tarita-Nistor L, González EG, Mandelcorn MS, Brent MH, Markowitz SN, Steinbach MJ. The reading accessibility index and quality of reading grid of patients with central vision loss. Ophthalmic Physiol Opt. 2018 Jan. doi: 10.1111/opo.12429.
A simple dietary supplement (L-arginine) has been found to improve birth outcomes, paving the way for future clinical trials to test this inexpensive and safe intervention.
The results come from a manuscript entitled, “Malaria in pregnancy alters L-arginine bioavailability and placental vascular development.” published in Science Translational Medicine by researchers at University Health Network (UHN) and the University of Toronto.
The report reveals that Malawian women with malaria in pregnancy had altered levels of L-arginine which were associated with poor birth outcomes. L-arginine is an amino acid that improves blood flow and circulation and that humans get from their diet from foods such as eggs, meat, dairy. Peanuts are also a rich source of the amino acid.
Moreover, using an experimental model of malaria in pregnancy, the researchers supplemented the diet of pregnant mice with L-arginine and found increased blood vessel development in the placenta and reduced low birth weight/preterm birth and stillbirth.
Preterm birth and stillbirth are leading causes of childhood death, accounting for an estimated 2 million deaths per year; however, there are few safe and effective interventions. Globally, many of these poor birth outcomes are associated with maternal infections such as malaria.
Led by Dr. Chloe McDonald and Dr. Kevin Kain at UHN’s Toronto General Hospital Research Institute (TGHRI), the scientists show that supplementing the diet with L-arginine prevented malaria from depleting the L-arginine-nitric oxide (NO) pathway.
In the body, L-arginine is converted into NO, which is critical for normal placental blood vessel development and healthy birth outcomes. “Our work shows that L-arginine is a critical component in regulating a key pathway that promotes blood vessel development in the placenta. Infections such as malaria can impair that pathway, restricting placental vascular development. Ultimately this can result in poor birth outcomes which can have long-term effects on babies who survive, including impaired brain and behavioural development,” says Dr. McDonald, adding that research on safe, effective ways of promoting healthy birth outcomes is urgently needed.
Dr. Kain notes that the L-arginine-(NO) biosynthetic pathway identified in this research may be a common pathway underlying other conditions linked to poor birth outcomes, be they in low or high-income countries such as Canada. “Our findings have broad implications not only for malaria in pregnancy, which represent 125 million pregnancies at risk each year, but also for other globally important causes of adverse birth outcomes linked to placental development, such as preeclampsia,” says Dr. Kain, who is a Senior Scientist at TGHRI and also serves as Science Director of the Tropical Disease Unit at UHN’s Toronto General Hospital.
Because L-arginine can be given to women as a simple, safe, and inexpensive food supplement during pregnancy, Dr. Kain and Dr. McDonald are now planning human clinical trials to assess the effects of this approach on human birth outcomes.
McDonald CR, Cahill LS, Elphinstone R, Gazdzinski LM, Zhong KJY, Philson AC, Madanitsa M, Kalilani-Phiri L, Mwapasa V, ter Kuile FO, Sled JG, Conroy AL, Kain KC. Malaria in pregnancy alters L-arginine biosynthesis in Malawian women and L-arginine supplementation improves birth outcomes in a pre-clinical model. Science Translational Medicine. 07 Mar 2018. DOI: 10.1126/scitranslmed.aan6007.
This research was supported by the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth; The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation - Grand Challenges in Global Health: Preventing Preterm Birth Initiative; Grand Challenges Canada Rising Stars in Global Health Grant; and The Canadian Institutes of Health Research. KK is a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Molecular Parasitology.
Article source: UHN.ca