Organizations grant $8.5 million to researchers for the fight against cancer
Elo Gauthier Lamothe, The Canadian Press
MONTREAL — Several Montreal researchers will share nearly $8.5 million in funding to advance the fight against childhood cancers, offering new hope to children who, in some cases, had little chance of recovery.
As part of a press conference held Wednesday in Montreal, the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS), the Council of Media Directors of Quebec (CDMQ), the Cole Foundation and the Oncopole awarded grants to four research projects to complete their project on pediatric cancers.
Liette Guertin, director of exemplary and corporate giving at the CCS and mistress of the ceremony, underlined the committed work of the teams of Dr Étienne Caron, Dr Élie Haddad, Dr Richard Marcotte and Dr Brian Wilhelm, who will each receive an amount varying between $1.3 and $2.3 million over a period of three years to support their research.
This initiative will increase the development of platforms, tools and treatments that will lead to improved prevention, diagnosis and treatment of children and young adults with cancer.
Increase the chances of recovery
One of the selected projects is that of Dr. Élie Haddad, from the immunoallergy and rheumatology department of CHU Sainte-Justine. Dr. Haddad and his colleagues are working on the development of a new immunotherapy treatment to cure children with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and rhabdomyosarcoma (RMS).
Children with RMS have little hope of recovery. In the case of ALL, approximately 20% of patients face a poor prognosis.
“We are working on chimeric antigen receptors, the CARs. It is a treatment that is revolutionizing the world of oncology, but it still has flaws,” explained the researcher in an interview with The Canadian Press.
At the forefront of the current « flaws » of the treatment, says Dr. Haddad, is the fact that you can only use this treatment once and expect it to work. In case of failure, it is impossible to come back a second or third time.
« We hope to be able to show that it is effective in treating cancer, because it will allow cells to reproduce, » he said. And in addition, as they will arrive slowly, they will probably be less responsible for side effects, ”he added.
If successful, the same process could be applied to other cancers, including adult cancers, Dr. Haddad said.
For his part, Dr. Étienne Caron, principal investigator at the CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center and associate researcher at the Institute for Research in Immunology and Cancer (IRIC) at the University of Montreal, is focusing his research on the development of « soft therapies », chemotherapy being often a stressful treatment for young children.
“We are going to be the first in the world to develop antibodies that will not attack a virus, but rather cancer cells and childhood leukemia,” explained the researcher in an interview.
According to him, children who undergo chemotherapy treatments at an early age are more at risk of suffering from heart problems or sterility when they reach adulthood.
“The idea is to greatly reduce the doses of chemotherapy, and with the antibodies, to have an extremely targeted treatment, he specified. […] It is only the cancerous cells which will be attacked and eliminated, which will make it possible to be very effective and without side effects”.
Dr. Caron believes that it is necessary to use « the most gentle therapies possible » in children, in order to ensure « a normal adult life and a quality of life ».
The partnership set up in the fall of 2021 between the four organizations aimed to mobilize researchers with different expertise towards the same goal, namely the support of cancer research.
According to Andrea Seale, CEO of the Canadian Cancer Society, childhood cancer is “the number one disease-related cause of death in children beyond infancy”.
« Research is the most effective way to save lives, » she said in a speech on Wednesday.
This article was produced with the financial support of the Meta Fellowships and The Canadian Press for News.