Research

 Amirali Bukhari and Armin Gamper

CRINA is home to over 120 world class scientists and clinicians all dedicated to the same goal — to more effectively prevent, diagnose, and treat cancer. CRINA members are making discoveries that will ultimately lead to improved health for those affected by cancer.  

Basic or discovery research is the foundation of cancer research. It happens in the laboratory where CRINA scientists study cancer at the cellular level, examining how it starts, grows and spreads. They also look at certain ‘markers’ produced by tumor cells and normal cells in response to cancer that can be used to diagnose, predict outcomes, and plan treatments for cancer patients. From biochemists to oncologists to chemists, CRINA researchers use their expertise and inventive thinking to make fundamental discoveries that may have an impact at a patient’s bedside. While these discoveries can be tremendously promising, they must still be tested in humans, which is where the next stages of research come into play. 

In order to truly impact patients, discoveries must be translated into the world outside the laboratory. Translational research involves examining and exploring how the exciting discoveries uncovered in the laboratory impact humans, and taking that information back to the laboratory to make further advances. Though this type of research is often called "bench to bedside" work, it is a constantly evolving process that involves input from both researchers in the laboratory and clinicians working with patients. 

All cancer researchers have one goal in common — to make an impact on patient care. There are so many ways that research affects patient care, from diagnosis to prognosis. Improved diagnostic tests can make testing easier for patients, and provide doctors with more detailed information about an individual’s particular disease. Finding ways to refine and personalize treatments can lead to better outcomes overall. Innovative technological advances help researchers see cells better and more accurately deliver treatment. The list is endless, and our researchers make an impact on patient care in Alberta every single day.

Cancer research has been a strength at the University of Alberta for decades. Many CRINA members played integral roles in major discoveries, and they continue to be at the forefront of innovative research. 

Developing A New Class of Cancer Drugs
A team of University of Alberta researchers - including CRINA members Michael Weinfeld, Jack Tuszynski and Khaled Barakat, as well as CRINA co-director Frederick West - discovered a group of novel compounds that have the potential to significantly impact patients receiving cancer treatment. The compounds inhibit key enzymes involved in the DNA repair process and consequently make the cells more sensitive to radiation or chemotherapy. Learn more here.
A New Way To Make The World’s Most Important Medical Isotope
A team of researchers made a breakthrough in 2012 by providing that technetium-99m, a vital medical diagnostic isotope, could be successfully manufactured in a cyclotron. The technetium-99m produced in the new method was as effective as the existing nuclear reactor isotopes, but offered a safer, cost-effective alternative. Technetium-99m is used in over 80% of medical imaging procedures to diagnose cancer, as well as other medical conditions and diseases. In 2013, UAlberta opened a medical isotope and cyclotron research and production facility. Though the isotope can only be shipped short distances due to half-life limitations, the technology can be replicated anywhere, allowing others to craft their own technetium-99m. Learn more here.
An Active Prescription For Patients
15 to 20 years ago, cancer patients were told to rest and not engage in physical activity. CRINA member Kerry Courneya began to examine the role of exercise in the health of cancer patients and found that individuals with cancer should be incorporating physical activity into their routines. Courneya’s groundbreaking work has changed recommendations made for cancer patients on a global scale. He is the co-author of 2019 Exercise Guidelines for Cancer Survivors. Learn more here.
Making Strides To Stop Metastasis
CRINA member John Lewis and his team have identified 11 genes widely linked with the spread of cancer cells. The team is testing the metastasis-associated genes and gene-products as drug targets with the aim of stopping metastasis. Learn more here.
Creating a More Patient-Friendly Test for Colon Cancer
Colorectal cancer is 90% preventable and treatable if caught early, but nearly 50% of patients
diagnosed find out too late. One of the barriers is the current colorectal cancer screening
method, which features a fecal-based test that many patients do not complete. Haili Wang
and the late Richard Fedorak developed a urine test that is inexpensive, simple, and offers a
more accurate detection of polyps. Their company, Metabolomic Technologies, has developed
the commercially available urine diagnostic test PolypDx™. Learn more here.
Nucleic Acid-Based Therapies To Block The Spread of Cancer
CRINA member John Lewis and his spin-off company, Entos Pharmaceuticals, are developing nucleic acid-based therapies using their Fusogenix drug delivery system. The system uses lipid nanoparticles (LNps) to deliver molecules directly into the cytosol of cells. The platform is applicable to a wide range of therapeutic types. Learn more here.
A Widely Used Assessment Scale
In the 1990s, Eduardo Bruera developed and validated the Edmonton Symptom Assessment System (ESAS), a simple scale used to assess and record symptom intensity in cancer patients. ESAS has since become a tool used worldwide in both cancer and palliative care clinics.