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April 2014

Increasing prostate cancer survival rates

Each year, more than 26,000 Canadian men are diagnosed with prostate cancer. However, the chances of survival are good – especially if it is detected during its early stages.

Once prostate cancer is diagnosed, a series of biopsies has to be done to determine how serious the case is.  These can be invasive and painful for the patient and may not give an accurate prognosis.

In partnership with Mitacs-Accelerate intern Julius Adebayo Awe, CancerCare Manitoba has developed an innovative way to determine the progression of prostate cancer in intermediate risk prostate cancer patients through a simple blood test. This work is done in collaboration with the Manitoba Prostate Centre and Drs. Darrel Drachenberg and Jeff Saranchuk.

Dr. Awe, who is completing his PhD in Physiology at the University of Manitoba, has been researching under Dr. Sabine Mai to apply and validate the new screening technique.

All tumors shed cells which are then circulated in the blood stream; the technology Dr. Awe applies isolates these circulating tumor cells using a filter device.  The cells can then be analyzed to determine the nature of the cancer. This is done using 3D nuclear imaging of telomeres, the ends of chromosomes. The 3D signatures obtained are characteristic of each patient’s disease.

“We need just 3ml of blood from a patient and from that, we can isolate enough tumor cells to determine the progression of the prostate cancer,” explained Dr. Awe. 

“It provides a much more accurate diagnosis than a biopsy and it can give a better representation of how far the illness has progressed or how stable it is.”

During his internship, Dr. Awe also worked on creating an image library of cancer cells in partnership with lens and microscope manufacturer Carl Zeiss Canada Ltd.  Using state of the art imaging technology, he developed the first high resolution database of cancer cell images in North America.

Dr. Sabine Mai says the new screening technology has been patented, and will help enhance  a clinician’s ability to decide on personalized treatment management.

“The internship determined that the new technique is more accurate than current screening methods involving a biopsy, and we willseek approval for use in clinical settings in Canada and the United States after a further patient study.”

Dr. Spencer Gibson, Director and Professor, Manitoba Institute of Cell Biology, which was jointly founded by CancerCare Manitoba and the University of Manitoba, said the research made a significant contribution to understanding prostate cancer cells.

“Our collaboration with Mitacs and Carl Zeiss provided Dr. Awe with the opportunity to pursue new avenues of research while gaining valuable insight into the business world and the cutting-edge cancer research we do in Manitoba."


Mitacs thanks the Government of Canada and Research Manitoba  for their support of the Accelerate research internship in this story. Across Canada, the Accelerate program also receives support from Alberta Innovates, the Government of British Columbia, the Government of New Brunswick, the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, the Government of Nova Scotia, the Government of Ontario, the Government of Prince Edward Island, the Government of Quebec, and the Government of Saskatchewan.


Do you have a business challenge that could benefit from a research solution? If so, contact Mitacs today to discuss partnership opportunities: BD@mitacs.ca