The seventh annual Canadian Movember campaign is fast approaching when, starting Nov. 1 and running to the end of November, men are encouraged to register on the Movember website to collect donations and grow a moustache. Money raised by the charity campaign supports initiatives for men’s health.
One of those initiatives is the Vancouver Prostate Centre lab, which received a $5 million grant from Movember and Prostate Cancer Canada in the summer.
Located at Vancouver General Hospital, the brightly lit lab on a floor of the Robert Ho building is a beehive of activity with dozens of people in white lab coats working at various stations. The white countertops are cluttered with scientific equipment and bottles of various shapes, sizes and colours.
Dr. Ralph Buttyan, senior scientist at the centre, says the grant allows him to lead a team of 22 investigators from across Canada whose aim is to improve treatment for men with the most aggressive forms of prostate cancer.
Buttyan has been involved in prostate cancer research for 30 years, but most of those years were spent in the U.S. where he said the university system keeps scientists from sharing what they know with others in their field.
Buttyan said he is excited about the collaborative Canadian approach fostered at the Vancouver Prostate Centre and how the grant will further its approach.
“We were able to put together a team using the concept that drives this place, which is a team approach, so we’ve gone out and recruited a team of investigators from other parts of the country, Toronto, the Maritimes … and here and we agreed that we could work together as a team. Everybody of different expertise, of different approaches and that is what this is all about,” he said, pointing out that unlike many labs in U.S., in his lab there are no walls between departments.
According to Buttyan, prostate cancer is the third leading cause of cancer death in men in Canada.
Most of the treatments to fight the disease target the hormone sensitivity of the cancer, and the gains in treatment have only given patients a few additional months of life. “We are moving towards the goal posts, but it is slowly, slowly, slowly,” said Buttyan.
He said his team has a different approach than has been used in advancing previous treatments. “We are going to target the ability of the prostate cancer cells to adapt to the treatments,” he said.
There are four projects under the grant and each looks at different aspects of tumour placidity, or adaptability.
“We want to hold the patient in a therapy responsive state,” he said. “Therefore instead of having treatments add a few months to a patient’s life, the team wants to add many years of life.”
Buttyan said the hope is to have at least one new therapy tested and ready to go into patients by the end of the five-year term of the grant.
“I feel so optimistic. This is outside-of-the-box thinking that we are using here,” he said.
Movember Canada director Pete Bombaci, who is already sporting a healthy moustache in advance of the organization’s November campaign, is clear why the charity wanted to fund the lab.
“It really highlights the collaborative nature of Movember, our partner Prostate Cancer Canada and the way we want to approach research moving forward,” he said.
Movember has funded 577 projects related to men’s health in 21 countries. Most projects have focused on prostate cancer, including A Survivorship Action Partnership, also with Prostate Canada, that aims to support survivors of the disease.
“We are really trying to change the face of men’s health,” Bombaci said.
To find out more about Movember and their campaign, go to ca.movember.com.
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