MONTRAL, April 30, 2012 /CNW/ – Canada’s most coveted stem cell prize will be awarded to a Stem Cell Network researcher who has used drug screening to find a potential new treatment for a deadly form of cancer.
Dr. Aaron Schimmer, associate professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Medical Biophysics and a clinician-scientist in the Princess Margaret Cancer Program/Ontario Cancer Institute at University Health Network, has received the 2012 Till & McCulloch Award, presented each year by the Stem Cell Network in recognition of the year’s most influential peer-reviewed article by a researcher in Canada. Dr. Schimmer will accept the award and present a lecture entitled “Novel therapeutic strategies to target leukemia stem cells” as part of the Till and McCulloch Meetings in Montral at 2 p.m. this afternoon.
In an advance interview, Dr. Schimmer described his findings and their potential as a new drug therapy in the treatment of leukemia.
“When you treat patients with leukemia, you can kill off 99 per cent of their leukemic cells with just about anything, and yet, 80 per cent or more of patients relapse,” Schimmer explained. “When we examined this in a really objective way, the question was not how to kill off those bulk cells – we already knew how to do that – but are we really missing a critical component of what we should be targeting?”
Dr. Schimmer and his team eventually found that cutting off the energy production capacity of bulk leukemia cells and leukemia stem cells was a way of treating the disease, and that the compound tigecyclinean FDA-approved antibiotic sometimes used to treat skin and abdominal infectionswas up to the task.
“Tigecycline appeared to work by essentially shutting down the energy supply of the leukemia cells and stem cells,” said Dr. Schimmer. “Essentially it is like producing a selective power outage in leukemia cells but not normal cells.”
By focusing on FDA-approved drugs, Dr. Schimmer was able to produce results that were quickly translated into clinical trials. Less than two years passed between his initial findings and the commencement of a phase-one clinical triala process that can otherwise take three or four times that long.
“It is incredibly impressive how much progress Dr. Schimmer has made in such a short period of time by using these stem cell screening techniques,” said Stem Cell Network Scientific Director Michael Rudnicki. “By identifying drugs which are already approved for human therapies and testing their efficacy in treating diseases such as leukemia, Dr. Schimmer has shaved years off of the clinical trial process. It is likely that his discovery will improve the outcomes for many patients in the near future.”
In 2005, the Stem Cell Network established the Till & McCulloch Award in honour of Canadians Drs. James Till and Ernest McCulloch, whose pioneering work established the field of stem cell research. The Award had been granted at the Stem Cell Network’s Annual Scientific Meeting, but became part of the Till & McCulloch Meetings this year.
The previous winner was Timothy Caulfield, who was recognized for his global leadership in the field of stem cell ethics.