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The ‘Google Map’ of cancer cells, how it could change cancer as we know it

Watch above: Proceeds from Movember campaigns are helping to further research across the country.  Meaghan Craig talks to some researchers at the University of Saskatchewan targeting genes to kill prostate cancer cells.

SASKATOON – There is nothing like it. Prostate cancer research currently underway at the University of Saskatchewan is being considered a world first and if successful could help save the lives of thousands of men.

Simply put, this forward-thinking research is being called the “Google map for cancer cells.”

“We want to block the pathways that are actually driving tumours, how can we actually block from signals that go from A to B,” said Franco Vizeacoumar, research scientist with the Saskatchewan Cancer Agency and professor at the University of Saskatchewan’s College of Medicine.

Vizeacoumar says think of the human body like the City of Saskatoon.

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“If I want to block the traffic from the east end to the west end of the city then what are the pathways, how many bridges do I have to block and water ways and air ways.”

It’s this type of thinking  or the “Google map” approach that is being applied to the cancer cell.

“We actually survey the whole genome, all of the 16,000 genes in there and then we identify what genes we can actually specifically target to selectively kill only the tumour cells but not the normal cells.”

The goal, to eradicate a tumour and help patients who no longer respond to standard treatments.

“We are now actually taking this approach and are applying that for prostate cancer and specially castration-resistant prostate cancer,” added Vizeacoumar

“There is no treatment other than standard chemotherapy so we can actually now go in and use our model and see if we can actually identify potential druggable targets.”

In 2014, an estimated 23,600 Canadian men were diagnosed with prostate cancer and four thousand will die from the disease. If this research works on prostate cancer, researchers say the possibilities are endless.

“There is a very wide applicability or possibility for general application to other types of cancer as well.”

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First, Vizeacoumar says his team of seven researchers and collaborative partners will need to validate potential targets in mice.

“For us to confirm these validated targets we are looking at likely another two to three years.”

This research is backed by the Movember Foundation through Prostate Cancer Canada. A total $87,000 dedicated towards the research, and it is one of 14 Movember Discovery Grants awarded to Canadian researchers.

The winners were selected based on novel research projects that have the potential to make a significant difference in advancements to prostate cancer treatment and cancer.

“Feels good that people like our kind of research but we have to deliver it.”