Stemming the Ravages of Cancer
Two of every five Canadians will develop some form of cancer. It's a tragic disease and, sadly, that statistic comes as no surprise to most of us. More than 150,000 Canadians are diagnosed every year with cancer. Over the next 20 years, a growing and aging population could mean a 60 per cent increase in the number of new cancer cases.
Cancer tumours typically begin years before they're diagnosed. The mystery of how and why cancer begins is the research focus of stem cell biologist Mick Bhatia, whose study of human embryonic stem cells is being applied to understanding and treating cancer.
One of the difficulties with current cancer treatment is that patients undergo aggressive chemo and radiation therapies to kill cancerous cells. Unfortunately, these procedures also destroy normal, healthy red blood cells and demolish the body's hematopoietic (blood-forming) system.
Because stem cells are capable of turning into any kind of cell in the body and can develop-or differentiate-into cells with specific functions, they have great potential in therapy to replace healthy cells that have been damaged or destroyed during cancer treatment.
Bhatia has made several important advancements in human stem cell research, particularly with blood stem cells. As Canada Research Chair in Human Stem Cell Biology, he is applying his understanding of their molecular nature and cell regulatory mechanisms to investigate how and why stem cells develop into other types of cells and then, how stem cells could be used as a tool kit to repair the damage caused by cancer.
By studying the sequence of events that cause the development of a cancer tumour, Bhatia hopes to come up with much "smarter" agents for treating cancer. These therapies have the potential to change the face of cancer care and hold great promise for enhancing the quality of life for the millions of Canadians diagnosed with cancer.