If successful, groundbreaking research at the University of Saskatchewan should help men and women diagnosed with a deadly brain cancer live longer.
The team, consisting of 15 to 20 researchers, has been awarded $200,000 in the form of a grant from the Canadian Cancer Society and if their instincts are right, the new imaging probes they’re developing will lead to better health outcomes for hundreds of Canadians every year.
Leading the team is Dr. Ron Geyer who has spent endless hours pouring his heart and soul into cancer research for the last three decades.
He is confident they are on the brink of something truly life altering as they attempt to tackle one of the toughest forms of cancer, known as glioblastoma.
“It’s the most common form of brain cancer, it’s got a dismal cure rate,” Geyer said.
“Its five-year survival rate is less than 10 per cent.”
Two to three per cent per 100,000 people are diagnosed with this form of cancer in Canada, mostly those between the ages of 60 and 80, and men more so than women.
Gord Downie, the lead singer of the Tragically Hip, was diagnosed with this type of brain cancer in 2016. Most patients diagnosed are given only 12 to 24 months to live even with the most aggressive treatments.
“The problem with this cancer is it’s very diffused, it’s spread out in the brain so if you were to do a surgical procedure you would open up the head and wouldn’t be able to define the margins of the tumour very well,” Geyer said.
“So if you try to cut it out, you can’t define where the tumour ends and the healthy tissue starts.”
Not only are researchers hoping to prolong a patient’s life, they’re striving for a cure. By removing the tumour entirely with the use of new imaging probes that help serve as a guide for surgeons.
The concept is complex but essentially a patient prior to their operation would be injected with an imaging agency that emits light – removing the guessing game for surgeons who will now be able to distinguish cancerous tissue versus normal tissue much easier.
“So then the surgeon can go in and not only see the tumor with their eyes but we can also get the probe to emit light so they can see all cells and now define the margins better.”
According to Geyer, removing all the cancerous tissue will prevent the cancer’s progression or re-occurrence after treatment.
Clinical trials are likely five years away but for Geyer, the long journey ahead will also be the most rewarding if it ends with a cure.
To support this research you can donate to the Canadian Cancer Society. Donations will be matched by Brain Canada.