Guelph Profs Searching for Solutions to Breast Cancer

October 28, 2013 - News Release

University of Guelph researchers are helping to fight breast cancer with innovative research that could lead to breakthroughs in preventing, detecting and treating the deadly disease.

One study at the Ontario Veterinary College (OVC) in cats with cancer may help treat the disease in people. Researchers in the Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences (HHNS) are investigating a possible link between diet and breast tumours.

Both studies have received a total of approximately $475,000 in funding from the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation – Ontario Region (CBCF).

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

U of G scientists are researching a novel vaccine designed to kill mammary tumours and boost the immune system in cats with cancer.

Paul WoodsClinical studies professor Paul Woods, co-director of the Institute for Comparative Cancer Investigation at OVC, will conduct the study with lead investigator Brian Lichty of McMaster University’s Immunology Research Centre.

“Cancer found in cats has the potential to lead to more promising answers for human cancers, as cats develop cancers spontaneously in real-world situations just like people do, so comparatively it is a closer reflection of cancer in people than artificial cancer models,” Woods said.

Veterinarians use surgery to treat feline mammary carcinoma, an aggressive disease common in older female cats. But many cats succumb to metastatic disease from their cancer.

“This study utilizes oncolytic viruses as a novel adjuvant therapy following surgery for feline mammary carcinoma to improve the disease-free survival time and overall survival time,” said Woods, who will work with OVC pathobiology professors Byram Bridle and Robert Foster on this study.

“It is theorized that these viruses will directly destroy tumour cells without harming normal cells and boost the cat’s immune response against their mammary cancer. If the therapy is successful in cats, then it may be applied to people. We’ve received strong support from veterinarians seeking better ways to treat their feline patients through this clinical trial. We anticipate opening the study at OVC soon.”

This is the first clinical animal trial funded by the CBCF at the Ontario Veterinary College.

Woods also belongs to an OVC study led by Prof. Brenda Coomber, Biomedical Sciences, looking for reliable biomarkers for responses to chemotherapy. The study measures the chemotherapy response of dogs with lymphoma. A successful test might help in indicating responsiveness to chemotherapy in people with breast cancer earlier than now possible.

In HHNS Prof. David Ma’s lab, post-doctoral researcher Salma Abdelmagid looks at how diet may affect breast cancer.

Abdelmagid studies how timing of intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids affects mammary gland development in mice. She is also looking at which fatty acids, found mostly in plants or marine oils,are most beneficial.

“Is it essential that a mother takes omega-3s during pregnancy to prevent her unborn child from developing breast cancer down the road, or is the child's intake of omega-3 fatty acids later in life enough for prevention of breast cancer?” she said.

“Diet and lifestyle have been implicated in 30 to 50 per cent of breast cancer development. There is more that must be done to prevent this disease. CBCF feels the results here will be very applicable, so that is one of the reasons we received this grant. This could be a simple solution to lowering the risk of breast cancer.”

Abdelmagid received a $142,500 grant from the CBCF to conduct her three-year study.

“Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation is proud to provide funding to the studies by Brian Lichty, Paul Woods and Salma Abdelmagid as we work towards a future without breast cancer,” says Sandra Palmaro, CEO, CBCF-Ontario. “Breast cancer remains the most common cancer in Canadian women over the age of 20, and with one in nine women diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, CBCF is supporting researchers across the province as we work to learn more about how we can prevent and treat breast cancer.”

For media questions, contact Communications and Public Affairs: Lori Bona Hunt, 519-824-4120, Ext. 53338, or; or Kevin Gonsalves, Ext. 56982, or

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