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This article was published 14/2/2019 (272 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Researchers say they are on the verge of a breakthrough in treating the type of cancer that killed Tragically Hip singer Gord Downie.
Saskatoon pathologist Dr. Ron Geyer has worked for 30 years on imaging techniques to help doctors diagnose and remove some of the most elusive and deadliest cancers. That includes a form of cancer called glioblastoma, which claimed Downie and Winnipeg marathoner Joanne Schiewe.
He was in Winnipeg on Thursday to speak to members of the Winnipeg Police Service, who have raised funds to support research such as Geyer’s.
"Our research team has been using this funding to develop tools to diagnose and monitor and treat cancers like glioblastoma which is the most common and the most deadly of the malignant brain tumours in adults," Geyer said.
He was the featured speaker to launch registration for the May 5 Winnipeg Police Service Half Marathon, sharing a podium with Canadian Cancer Society and police officials and the likes of Mayor Brian Bowman and Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen.
By summer, Geyer hopes to begin the first clinical trials on patients with his team’s new imaging techniques. His team at the University of Saskatchewan, in collaboration with other university researchers, has isolated and designed two new biomedical molecules.
Both can be injected directly into the blood stream and both search out and locate the brain tumours and their elusive new growths. One is designed to emit light so surgeons can use them to locate and remove the cancer. The other kind of imaging molecule works with scans to help doctors diagnose and monitor the growth of tumours.
"We’re excited to announce we’ve obtained approval from Health Canada to start moving these molecules for clinical trials. This is a huge accomplishment for our research group," Geyer said.
It’s an advance the Canadian Cancer Society says could be a game changer for all kinds of hard-to-treat cancers.
"And in this hard-to-treat brain cancer where life expectancy with diagnosis is 12 to 14 per cent, if we can flip that and make it 60 per cent (survival rate), think of the impact that will have on all those families," said Dan Holinda, the regional prairie executive director for the society. "It will change the landscape."
The partner of Winnipeg’s half marathoner whose life was claimed three years ago by the same cancer said Friday he’s aware of Geyer’s research.
"This breakthrough is definitely big news," said Jared Spier. "While it’s not definitely possible to say for sure if Jo would still be alive now with it, it certainly would have helped. Even the best surgeon, and hers was so good she went to a Halloween party as him, is only going to be better and more effective with greater tools like this," Schiewe’s partner said.
Four years ago, the WPS half marathon focused its fundraising efforts on brain cancer, a deadly disease diagnosed in 3,000 Canadians every year. This year, the half marathon is $163,000 away from raising its second million dollars, less than half the decade it took to raise its first $1 million.
Police and politicians at the event pledged to run the marathon this year.
Mayor Brian Bowman said his wife volunteered him to run the five-kilometre race with the couple's two sons this spring.
"I obviously wanted to be here to support this event. It’s going to be 15 years (this year) for the Winnipeg Police Service Half Marathon and I believe my wife has run in it every single (year). . . She gave me a special message today: 'Happy Valentine’s Day, Sweetie. You’re running in the 5-K.' So I will be running," the mayor said.
Downie, the Hip's lead singer, died in 2017.
Alexandra is a veteran news reporter who has covered stories for the Winnipeg Free Press since 1987. She held the medical beat for nearly 17 years, and today specializes in coverage of Indigenous-related issues. She is among the most versatile journalists on the paper’s staff.