MGH Researchers Among Recipients of a Major Grant to Fight Cancer
$34M to uncover how chronic inflammation causes cancer
Researchers from the Montreal General Hospital, members of the McGill University’s Faculty of Medicine and of the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) are part of the multidisciplinary team that was recently selected for funding through Cancer Research UK’s (CRUK) Grand Challenge competition. The team led by the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF), will receive 20 million British pounds (nearly 34 million Canadian dollars) over four years to explore the links between chronic inflammation and cancer.
The project, known as STrOmal ReprograMing (STORMing Cancer) Provides New Directions to Prevent and Revert Chronic Inflammation, aims to find novel ways of treating cancer caused by inflammation and to develop new options to prevent cancer from developing in high-risk patients with chronic inflammatory diseases.
“I am thrilled to be part of this world-class cancer research hub, along with colleagues from the RI-MUHC and McGill,” said co-investigator Dr. Lorenzo Ferri, David S. Mulder Chair in Surgery at McGill University and a clinician-scientist from the Cancer Research Program at the RI-MUHC. “This grant will allow us to examine cancer from a different angle. Rather than solely studying the mutations in cancer cells, as we’ve been doing for decades, the STORMing Cancer project will aim to identify the signals and drivers of chronic inflammation that result in alterations to the protein and cellular “scaffolding” supporting tissues ultimately leading to cancer.”
“I am honoured to be part of such an exciting project that brings together an international and multidisciplinary team of experts to change how we think of cancer,” added fellow co-investigator Dr. Morag Park, Diane and Sal Guerrera Professor in the Departments of Oncology, Biochemistry and Medicine and Director of McGill’s Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Centre (GCRC).
Chronic Inflammation Drives a Quarter of All Cancers
The team, which includes scientists, clinicians and patient advocates from the United States, Canada, Israel and the United Kingdom, will focus its efforts on understanding how chronic inflammation drives some of the most aggressive forms of cancer.
Inflammation is a normal part of the body’s immune response and occurs when white blood cells release protective molecules in response to cellular damage, foreign substances or infectious pathogens.
“Chronic inflammation accounts for a quarter of the cancers in the world. One out of every four cancers is induced by inflammation, and some of them are particularly common to Canadians,’’ said Dr. Ferri, who is also the director of the Division of Thoracic Surgery and the Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer Program at the MUHC. “Gastroesophageal cancer is the fastest-growing cancer in North America, and lung cancer is still the number one cancer killer in Quebec, especially among women.’’
Though chronic inflammation causes a variety of cancers, the STORMing Cancer team will focus on four types: esophageal, lung, stomach and colon cancer. These cancers are especially aggressive and, according to clinicians, by the time patients receive a diagnosis, is usually too late. The team believes that its efforts will drastically improve outcomes.
CRUK launched the Grand Challenge in 2015 in order to bring together scientists from around the world and from different disciplines to find solutions to cancer’s toughest challenges. Phase one of the Grand Challenge ended in 2017, with four winning teams selected from a pool of 57 applicants. Phase two (the current iteration) proved even more competitive, with three winning teams selected from 134 entries.