Researchers in Hamilton, funded by the Canadian Cancer Society, are developing the idea using DNA enzymes – or “DNAzymes.”
The idea is, if cancer is present, the molecules will glow, leading to early treatment and better outcomes for patients.
The investigation has been made possible thanks to the CCS’s innovation grants program. It supports unusual concepts, approaches or methodologies to address problems in cancer research.
Dr. Yingfu Li, a biochemist, and Dr. Bruno Salena, a gastroenterologist – both at McMaster University – came up with the novel idea while on the golf course.
Li has been studying fluorescent DNAzymes for many years, while Salena has been treating patients with colorectal cancer and other bowel diseases. Both share an interest in early detection of colorectal cancer.
“We got talking about the fluorescent enzymes and the possibilities for early detection of cancer and I got quite excited,” says Salena. “I looked at Dr. Li’s data and I loved it. I thought this is something new we can try.” The men put their heads together and applied for a grant, awarded in July.
Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Canada. According to the CCS, when caught early the disease is 90 per cent treatable.
For someone like Pete Thompson, a colon cancer survivor, early detection was the difference between life and death.
In 2000, he was feeling unwell and saw a doctor who insisted he get screened for colon cancer. Doctors found a golf ball sized tumor in his colon.
Thompson had surgery to remove the cancerous tumor and recovered well, in large part because his cancer was detected early and treated aggressively.
“This research will make a real impact for families like mine. I know first hand that the earlier that colon cancer is found, the more likely it is that treatment will be successful,” he said.
This year, the society has funded 51 innovation grants totaling almost $10 million.
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