Developing vaccines against childhood cancers – Dr. Aru Narendran

Vaccines have effectively treated and even eradicated, some of the most devastating infectious diseases. Not only can vaccines protect us from viruses and other pathogens, but they can also train the immune system to recognize and destroy tumour cells.

Based on research showing the effectiveness of anticancer vaccines against some adult tumours, pediatric oncologist Dr. Aru Narendran, MD, PhD is developing a vaccine for high-risk, difficult-to-treat cancers in children.

Malignant cells can make unique mutant proteins, called neoantigens, that aren’t found in normal healthy cells. Narendran’s lab gathers and analyzes data from tumours and normal samples of high-risk pediatric patients to identify candidate neoantigens. Once they have this information, they can develop and test effective anticancer vaccines for children with difficult-to-cure brain tumours, leukemias, and sarcomas.

The new Calgary Cancer Centre will significantly boost Narendran’s work by attracting new talent, providing access to critical study specimens and technology, and encouraging more collaborations between adult and pediatric oncologists. “This will help tremendously with important knowledge exchange and learning from each other more effectively.”

Narendran currently holds the Kids Cancer Care Chair in Clinical and Translational Research in Pediatric Oncology. His goal is to transform the treatment of childhood cancers in the future. “For me, OWN.CANCER simply means that we never have to tell a parent that there is nothing more that we can do to help their child with cancer. Ever.”

 

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

You can help clinicians and researchers like Amanda perform world-class cancer research by making a donation to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

Click here to Donate.

 

More than a job

Cory Knutson is a project manager with PCL Construction, the company responsible for the construction of the new Calgary Cancer Centre. “I get to see the building come alive a little more each day.  I get great satisfaction from seeing my ideas and direction transformed into physical installations inside the building,” he says.

The construction is more than a job to Knutson, however. His father lost his battle with cancer in May 2020 after a five-year struggle.

Since then, Knutson has had time to reflect on his father’s care.  “The AHS staff were so supportive through all the chemo rounds, ambulance rides, the many research sessions to locate potential treatment options, and the end-of-life home care,” he says.

“I know my efforts will help make this the best possible building for AHS staff to offer quality care for patients like my father.”

“I know what a difference this building will make to those who have yet to start their own cancer journey.”

The Calgary Cancer Centre is set to open in 2023.

 

As originally published on Alberta Health Services

Barbara Munroe – Campaign Cabinet Members

A campaign of this magnitude doesn’t happen without the support and dedication of our community. The OWN.CANCER campaign cabinet is made up of passionate Calgarians who are champions for improved cancer research, treatment and care in our province. Through their advocacy, donations and guidance, we’re closer to reaching our $250 million fundraising goal in support of the Calgary Cancer Centre. In this series, we’re sitting down with our cabinet members to learn what the OWN.CANCER campaign means to them and the impact it will have on Albertans facing cancer. 

Barbara Munroe is a former lawyer having retired as executive vice president and general counsel of WestJet Airlines. Prior to that, she held senior legal and executive positions at Imperial Oil, SMART Technologies and Blake, Cassels & Graydon. Barbara is now focused on corporate directorships within the oil and gas (Crescent Point) and utilities (ENMAX) sectors, along with being a Trustee of the Alberta Cancer Foundation. She is also a two-time University of Calgary graduate (BComm ’87, LLB ’90).

 

I am convinced that the Calgary Cancer Centre will change the landscape of cancer care and research, while also providing meaningful and diversified economic benefits to Calgary. It will be the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Canada – that’s impact!

– Barbara Munroe

 

What inspires you to OWN.CANCER?

In May 2012 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My world was displaced at the time I was full-stride in my career. One year following my diagnosis, my mother was diagnosed with cancer in her jaw that necessitated invasive surgery with long-lasting daily living effects, and my father is currently living with metastatic prostate cancer.

Having repurposed myself, I now have more time to give and the Alberta Cancer Foundation and the OWN.CANCER cabinet is the perfect fit to add my voice to the advancement of cancer awareness, prevention, screening and increased funding for research in Alberta, and for the new Calgary Cancer Centre.

I learned that the work of the Alberta Cancer Foundation supports every cancer-related clinical trial in Alberta – and that one positive clinical trial can help out hundreds of thousands of patients. That is real impact and is the practical inspiration that got me involved to advocate and fundraise for the OWN.CANCER campaign.

As the Lululemon tag goes “do one thing a day that scares you”. I am lucky as a survivor that I can try to live in the spirit of that adage – my personal inspiration to OWN.CANCER is that facing cancer should not be one of those things!

Why was it important to you to volunteer and contribute to this campaign?

You can’t help but be impressed with what has been built to date. With an investment of $1.4 billion, the Calgary Cancer Centre is the largest government infrastructure project in the province.

Construction will be complete in 2022 and it is anticipated that this facility will open to the public in 2023. That’s not a lot of time! But a lot of energy is going into attracting world-class clinicians and researchers to make the Calgary Cancer Centre the gold standard in care. Countless hours of professional and volunteer time have gone into this project, and we are on the doorstep of something that is going to be nothing short of game-changing.

It keeps coming back to that for me – the integration of research to optimize care – a collaborative approach with all of the right groups represented. This is what will differentiate the new centre and most importantly, offer hope and save lives! Integrated care and research is a pretty involved subject, but I am convinced that through the partnership with the University of Calgary, the Calgary Cancer Centre will be one of the leading cancer centres in North America.

How do you believe this campaign and the Calgary Cancer Centre will impact Albertans facing cancer?

Experience offers some perspective. While going through my own treatment, and observing that of my parents, the care and options were very good. However, the system, and the scattered and various facilities, were complex to navigate and didn’t result in feelings of being intimately connected to the universe of care providers.

Having everything in one place will alleviate anyone from feeling that they are alone when facing cancer. The feeling when walking into the Calgary Cancer Center will not be one of fear, but rather one of belonging.

I am convinced that the Calgary Cancer Centre will change the landscape of cancer care and research, while also providing meaningful and diversified economic benefits to Calgary. It will be the largest comprehensive cancer centre in Canada – that’s impact!

But most importantly, there will be a one-word answer for patients and their families facing cancer who ask “Where do I need to go?”

Here.

 

Click here to learn more about the OWN.CANCER campaign

Winning the battle of the brain

Glioblastoma is a particularly aggressive brain cancer with a very low survival rate. But exciting new research suggests a common vitamin could help patients with glioblastoma.

University of Calgary oncologist Dr. Gloria Roldan-Urgoiti, MD, and neuroscientist Dr. Wee Yong, Ph.D., are leading a Phase I-II clinical trial in patients with glioblastoma to evaluate the effectiveness and safety of niacin (vitamin B3) being added to first-line radiotherapy and chemotherapy. The Neuro-Oncology team, headed by Dr. Paula de Robles, MD, at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre is currently enrolling patients.

Earlier work from Yong’s team, including Dr. Susobahn Sarkar, Ph.D., showed that niacin could stimulate the brain’s immune cells, microglia, to stop tumour growth and potentially save lives. “To me, to OWN. CANCER means we are winning the battle of the brain, where brain immune cells are directed towards conquering brain cancer,” says Yong.

Roldan Urgoiti and Yong believe collaboration is key to transforming how cancer is treated in the future. “The new Calgary Cancer Centre will facilitate communication between different specialists and researchers that need to work together for the benefit of patients diagnosed with cancer and their families,” says Roldan-Urgoiti. 

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

This is our moment. Our once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the landscape of cancer research, care and treatment. We’re ready to OWN.CANCER. Are you with us?

Donate Today

A simple blood test could improve lung cancer care and cut costs

It may be possible to bypass expensive, invasive tissue biopsies to detect lung cancer with a simple sample of blood. 

Exciting new research has shown that specialized blood tests, or “liquid biopsies,” can identify many types of cancer and allow physicians to target therapies for patients. A University of Calgary researcher, Dr. Doreen Ezeife, MD, has shown that liquid biopsies could also save the health-care system a lot of money.

Working with researchers across Canada, Ezeife studied the impact of liquid biopsy on the cost of care in advanced non-small-cell lung cancer patients. She found that liquid biopsies can significantly reduce health care costs, resulting in more patients receiving personalized therapy. This research could change how lung cancer is diagnosed in the future.

For Ezeife, the new Calgary Cancer Centre will enhance opportunities to collaborate with other scientists and health care professionals to perform nationally and internationally impactful research, with the ultimate goal of improving patient care.

“To me, to OWN.CANCER means that cancer patients can feel empowered to learn ways to maintain their health and well-being throughout their cancer and survivorship journey, and the health care team helps to have their needs met,” says Ezeife.

 

 

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

This is our moment. Our once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the landscape of cancer research, care and treatment. We’re ready to OWN.CANCER. Are you with us?

Donate Today

How Jim Button Owns Cancer

 

“A father of two, husband of one, brother of three, and friend to many.” This is how Jim Button describes himself. 

On Father’s Day, 2014, Jim and his family were on a rafting trip when he began to feel severe pain. A hospital visit revealed a case of appendicitis, but it also revealed a baseball-sized tumor on his kidney. Within hours, his appendix was removed, and his kidney three weeks later. But in 2016, cancer had metastasized in Jim’s lungs and his oncologist explained that he would be on treatment for the rest of his life – which they estimated would be about one to two years. 

“That was six years ago,” says Jim. “And the journey from here to there has been seriously up and down… I’ve had many times where I’ve been in near-death situations – many times where the family’s standing around the bed thinking [that] that was it.”

Over the last six years, Jim has been documenting his experience with cancer on his blog – Gather With Jim, a place where he shares some of the good, bad and ugly experiences of living with cancer. It’s now become a place where he has inspired countless others who are on their own cancer journey.

“I wanted to normalize conversations around the disease and death and dying,” he says. “People avert their eyes. It’s very hard for them to look at a sick person… I want to try to normalize that in order to allow people to feel, ‘Oh, okay, this happens.’ Even families have a hard time discussing and sharing these difficult conversations when instead they should all be on the same page working together.”

Through his blog, Jim has been able to meet other folks living with cancer. He often goes on walks with them where they converse about their shared experiences.

“I’ve been in many group therapy scenarios where you go in and everybody has cancer and they talk about all the things that cancer’s taken away from them and the futileness of it all. Once cancer owns you, then it’s a quick ride to nowhere,” he says. “Throughout the walk, I feel like my role is to give them back ownership of their journey.”

Jim explains that living with cancer can cause people to feel a loss of control. Based on his experiences, Jim advises them to manage what they can control and let go of the rest. He recalls how his wife, Tracey Button, experienced anticipatory grief and anxieties after Jim’s diagnosis. Concerns about the future regarding their children (Jack and Amanda), their finances, as well as her work. To address her concerns, Jim and Tracey took care of what they could – organizing their life insurance, wills, and estates – as well as practicing mindfulness to focus on the present moment.

“You can’t control everything,” Jim explains. “You’re not promised tomorrow, but you’ve got today – so make today the best you can with what you have.” 

 “I’ve never used the word ‘fighting’, I’ve never used the word ‘survivor’, never used ‘battle’ – because I’m living with cancer. I’d rather not have cancer but the cancer is here so I’m living with it and adapting to it. I very much believe that I am in control of owning cancer versus that cancer owns me.”

When the Centre opens in 2023, Calgary will be home to a world-class cancer hospital with a comprehensive approach that allows researchers, clinicians, patient-care specialists, and diagnosticians to work together in one place. Jim is all too familiar with the inconvenience of visiting a myriad of different medical practitioners across the city. “We’re bringing in researchers, medical teams, and patients altogether in one place,” he says about the Centre. “It’s the smart way to do it.” 

Despite being located beside busy roadways, the Calgary Cancer Centre will have more than 6,200 square meters of outdoor accessible spaces helping people connect with nature and providing a more relaxing healing environment. Something as simple as natural light and green spaces can make a world of difference for patients and families going through treatment. “There’s going to be color and energy and freshness… When I’m at the hospital for weeks at a time, it would be nice to [have] conversations with people in a positive space,” says Jim.

Jim and Tracey felt that it was important to address the unique needs of young cancer patients and their families. With the support of their network, they began the Button Family Initiative in Pediatric Psychosocial Oncology & Survivorship at the Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary. The first project supported by this initiative is led by Dr. Fiona Schlute, Ph.D., whose research focuses on improving the health and psychological outcomes for young survivors and enhancing real-time communication between researchers, clinicians, and patients and families, alike.

 Together, we are making great strides to improve the quality of life for cancer patients and survivors by treating the body, mind and spirit as a whole. 

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

This is our moment. Our once-in-a-generation opportunity to transform the landscape of cancer research, care and treatment. We’re ready to OWN.CANCER. Are you with us?

Click here to Donate.

 

Teaching Compassionate Care

Can compassion in health care be taught? Nursing professor and UCalgary researcher Dr. Shane Sinclair, PhD, says ‘yes,’ but better training is needed.

After reviewing current compassion training programs, Sinclair and his team worked with health-care providers and patients to create a benchmark for what encompasses compassion. They then used this information to assess current training programs. He and his team think there is room for improvement.

The results of Sinclair’s review suggest compassion training needs input from patients, as they are the ones ultimately impacted. “We need to mature in our training programs to move beyond simply nurturing feelings of compassion to actually providing practitioners with tangible evidence-based clinical skills and behaviours to provide compassion to patients in a more meaningful, robust and sustainable way,” he says. 

For Sinclair, OWN.CANCER isn’t so much about dominating cancer but personalizing each patient’s care to their own needs and preferences. “In addition to a new state-of-the-art building, the new Calgary Cancer Centre means we will have a renewed focus on providing state-of-the-art compassionate care inside the building.” 

University of Calgary student and cancer researcher shares what the new Calgary Cancer Centre will mean to researchers like her

Parisa Ghahremanifard, a Master of Science student at the University of Calgary is part of a research project hoping to improve the lives of patients with oral cancers, one of the most common cancers of the head and neck region. 

 

“My MSc is in  Biochemistry and Molecular Biology and I work at Dr. Pinaki Bose’s lab at the Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute where I’m currently researching ways to  stop oral cancer progression in patients.”

 

Parisa’s study focuses on cancer immunotherapy. Immunotherapy treatments harness the body’s immune system to attack tumours. A key step involves helping the body’s cancer-fighting T-cells recognize which cells are cancerous.

 

“Cancerous cells are as smart as we are because we literally share the same DNA. So as we try to find a way to treat patients with chemotherapy or radiation, the cancer cells find a way to fight back and resist the treatment. I think it’s amazing to destroy cancerous cells with the tool that God has given us all, our own immune cells!!”

 

With the new Calgary Cancer Centre being one of the largest comprehensive cancer centres in North America, it means bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible. Which is an exciting prospect for researchers like Parisa.

 

“I can’t wait to continue my project in our new lab at the Calgary Cancer Centre. I think it’s a brilliant idea to gather all cancer professionals and patients in one place. I believe if we all work together and look at cancer from different perspectives hopefully with every small step we will finally OWN.CANCER. Even if all this work helps one person enjoy their life a few days more, I believe that it will all be worth it.”

____

 

At the new Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible.

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

You can help clinicians and researchers like Amanda perform world-class cancer research by making a donation to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

Click here to Donate.

 

 

 

 

 

Mavis Clark – Campaign Cabinet Members

 

A campaign of this magnitude doesn’t happen without the support and dedication of our community. The OWN.CANCER campaign cabinet is made up of passionate Calgarians who are champions for improved cancer research, treatment and care in our province. Through their advocacy, donations and guidance, we’re closer to reaching our $250 million fundraising goal in support of the Calgary Cancer Centre. In this series, we’re sitting down with our cabinet members to learn what the OWN.CANCER campaign means to them and the impact it will have on Albertans facing cancer. 

“The Calgary Cancer Centre is a daring dream being realized through unfettered determination and sheer perseverance.”

Mavis Clark is an educator who retired from the Calgary Board of Education, having held a variety of school-based and senior-level administrative positions. She completed her career as the Superintendent of Human Resources. Mavis graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Education and Masters of Education and holds a Certified Human Resources Practitioner designation from CHRP Canada.

In addition to completing two terms as a UCalgary Senator, she served on community boards, particularly those focused on women and families including Homefront Calgary, Prairie Action Foundation and the Calgary Women’s Emergency Shelter. 

She is a passionate champion for the community, investing time in the education of children, social justice reform, and changing the narrative about lung cancer. 

What inspires you to OWN.CANCER?

“In March 2007, my husband Paul Clark heard four words that would change our lives forever: ‘You have lung cancer’. With the utterance of this unvarnished statement, our charmed life was over as we knew it. Paul was a non-smoker, the picture of health and in the prime of his life when he was diagnosed with this deadly cancer. In April 2010, Paul succumbed to the disease.  Like most people with lung cancer, he didn’t live five years past the diagnosis.

“It was then that I stepped forward to become a vocal advocate to push for the advancement of lung cancer awareness, prevention, screening and increased funding for research.  The stark reality was that the lack of funding would continue to dramatically limit the options and outcomes for lung cancer patients.

“It was clear if nothing changed then countless families would share our heartache. I couldn’t change my own circumstance but perhaps I could make a difference for someone else.”

“I started a personal campaign to “own lung cancer”.  Over the past 12 years, I have become a recognized cancer advocate, bringing much-needed attention to the stigma associated with lung cancer and its dismal survival outcomes.  As a community member, I have supported The Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute through the Cumming School of Medicine. Together, our mission is to decrease cancer in the population, advance treatment and improve the patient experience. To this end, the Paul Clark Lung Cancer Fellowship was established in 2011. It is now an integral part of this mission, to attract and support innovative researchers as they seek to change the outcomes of this devastating disease. These efforts have led to the formation of The Lung Cancer Translational Research Initiative at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre.”

Why was it important to you to volunteer and contribute to this campaign?

“In the twelve years since Paul’s death, I have worked closely with a brilliant team of clinicians/researchers who are driven by a commitment to bring real hope to lung cancer patients and their families. I continue to be inspired by their quest to find the right treatment so each patient can live their lives to the fullest. Working with these talented individuals, and being a member of a powerful collaborative partnership between community-health care scientists/medical professionals has helped me to deal with his passing.

“I am thrilled beyond words by the progress our Calgary clinician/researchers are making to translate the bed to bench and bench to bedside knowledge into leading-edge cancer prevention/treatment in many cancers.  I am proud to be part of the OWN.CANCER campaign.  It represents what we do best in Alberta the community coming together to achieve big, bold, audacious goals. 

“The OWN.CANCER is all about engaging the community in a collaborative relationship with the best and brightest in the medical field to be leaders with the goal of conquering cancer at a world level. Collectively we can change the face of cancer if everyone embraces and “owns” the cause.  Every dollar raised will make a huge difference!!!  I am committed to doing my part through the continued funding of The Paul Clark Lung Cancer Fellowship and by leaving a legacy gift to financially support the advancement of cancer research into the future. 

“The OWN.CANCER campaign will impact so many lives…. to me, it is the personification of hope.”

How do you believe this campaign and The Calgary Cancer Centre will impact Albertans facing cancer?

“You can never really anticipate how life will unfold.  We all have dreams. We all have hopes. But sometimes reality has a different plan. The new Cancer Centre will be there for those facing the challenges of a cancer diagnosis. This magnificent facility is the realization of many acts of generosity, volunteer efforts and institutional partnerships coming together to make an ambitious dream come true.

“The new cancer centre has a powerful humanistic vibe…a feeling like you’re being hugged and enveloped by warmth. You have the sense that it’s no longer about what has happened. It’s about what’s going to happen and creating a safe space for everything that’s coming next. Each cancer patient’s journey will be supported in a building bolstered by imagination, innovation and industriousness. This facility will offer life-affirming support for patients and their families informed by revolutionary research and the utilization of cutting-edge equipment. The new Cancer Centre will be the catalyst for progressive cancer care for our community and far beyond. Working together, all things are possible.” – Mavis Clark

 

Click here to learn more about the OWN.CANCER campaign

 

Dr. Amanda Khan aims to make a significant impact in cancer patient care at the Calgary Cancer Centre

 

Dr. Amanda Khan,  a second-year radiation oncology resident physician at the University of Calgary, was inspired to pursue medicine after witnessing the care her brother received when he was diagnosed with leukemia.The ability to help patients through their cancer journey is a privilege and I am truly living my life’s dream by helping patients the way my brother’s oncologist helped him,” she says. 

In order to best serve patients, Dr. Khan decided to train as a clinician-scientist. This is a physician with a medical degree who also obtains a Ph.D. degree to perform clinically relevant research.

“Not only do I see patients in the clinic and help treat their cancer, but I also perform research that can directly impact their care and improve their quality of life.”

After receiving her MD/Ph.D. dual degree at the University of Toronto, she chose the University of Calgary for residency because of the world-class clinicians and the upcoming Calgary Cancer Centre which will be one of the largest comprehensive cancer centres in North America. 

“In terms of Calgary’s excellence, not only do the radiation oncologists here engage in incredible cancer research but their clinical knowledge and bedside manner made such an impression on me during my elective here, that I was willing to move halfway across the country during the pandemic to train with them. I also chose to train at the University of Calgary because of the new Calgary Cancer Centre. Being able to be at the vanguard of cancer care and treatment delivery in Canada is an incredible opportunity. My future goal is to become a clinician-scientist radiation oncologist at the Calgary Cancer Centre and have my own research laboratory to help make cancer treatments safer and better.”

To Dr. Khan, the words OWN.CANCER reflects exactly what she tries to do every day.

“As a radiation oncology resident physician, I try to take control over cancer and own it via imaging, safe radiation delivery and research so that my patients can live their lives.”

 


At the new Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible.

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

You can help clinicians and researchers like Amanda perform world-class cancer research by making a donation to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

Click here to Donate.