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Meet the A-Team of stem-cell science

From Saturday's Globe and Mail

Bit by bit, Canadians uncovered the seeds of deadly cancers ...Read the full article

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  1. B Johnson from Canada writes: What a fantastic article. This is an amazing breakthrough in cancer research and indeed may even lead to a viable cure. This is extremely exciting!
  2. A W from montreal, Canada writes: With all these successes by our researchers, one wonders why Canadians can't seem to get a fair shake from the Nobel Prize jury for Medicine.
  3. mr motoc from Vancouver Island, Canada writes: Let the religious screwballs in the U.S. chase the stem-cell scientists away! . . . Canada will get them; Canadians -- as a RULE, anyway -- are NOT afraid of 'Science' -- the bogeyman of religious types (Christian and Muslim and . . . ?).
  4. S Bellinger from Sault Ste. Marie, Canada writes: Brilliant article, thank you G&M. Our Canadian scientists are the 'quiet' superstars...sounds familiar. However I read this article and was both inspired and scared. Has all the horrendous treatment my loved one has gone through been to no avail? Send us some real treatments as quickly as you can.
  5. Hank M from Hamilton, ON, Canada writes: This is a very exciting field and nice to see our media help Canadians celebrate their contributions to the world of medicine. Knowledge is linear and we just need to find a way to improve funding and shorten the time to the ultimate cure. It takes time and money.
  6. jack doober from brantford, Canada writes: At the moment chemotherapy and radiation can give you five years at most and all that time you are in miserable health due to the treatment...I wonder if these treatments are the things that kill you... I hope the radiation and chemotherapy doctors dont hold up this scientific breakthrough due to self interest..
  7. r z from Edmonton, Canada writes: Great article, thank you G & M.....chemo damned near killed me, but this article has given me hope.

    Let's pray that the scientific community doesn't hold back on studying this further, because they've invested money and time on the wrong track. You can pour tons of money into the wrong research and keep coming up with non-answers.

    This new research on cancer stem cells came from a brilliant mind.

    Thank God for scientists who keep going when they find a lead, even when they don't get funding.
  8. gaston gravel from Marco Island FL, United States writes: BIG MONEY DOES NOT MEAN BIG RESEARCHS
  9. Leslie Symes from Canada writes: This is a wonderful article and wonderful work. Thanks G&M for your series on Cancer. Plain and simple, research in Canada needs more funding, it will never equal the states, but these reserachers having to 'shop around' to get funding for their studies delays discovery. This is a priority in this country, and I want to see more money go to Canadian universities in all fields.
  10. Elmo Harris from Niagara, Canada writes: Let's make this type of research a priority and fund it accordingly. We can't wait for the the big pharmaceutical companies to find a way to make a buck on this. This needs government funding - now!
  11. Vic Hotte from Kettleby, Canada writes: One has to be impressed and humbled by the pain-staking methodical efforts of all the researchers mentioned in this article. We can only hope their tireless research will translate into better targeted treatments and disease control. This is a real paradigm shift for researchers and oncologists because these findings cast doubt on current approaches involving chemotherapy, radiation and surgery which temporarily reduce most tumours. Yet, these pioneering discoveries were made in the absence of proper funding. We read, 'While the Americans had the means to make large cancer-cell lines and carpet-bomb them with various anti-cancer agents to see if they could spot a winner, the Canadians contented themselves to look at less expensive questions.' It appears the greatest funding for American research came from the industry most likely to benefit from the wide-spread use of anti-cancer drugs. Manufacturers have to make some profit, but high-volume sales are not the proper foundation for medical research. This article shows that original individual and independent research have far greater value than one-track industry-university research partnerships alone, which are widely praised and promoted by penny-pinching governments. We and our federal-provincial governments need to take off our hats to, and open our wallets a bit wider for, our superb medical researchers.
  12. Kirk . from Ajax, Canada writes: Just an awsome article. I hope CAROLYN ABRAHAM continues to write about these scientists so we can follow along their success. Articles like this could only help encourage average people to donate to the cause, it's very satisfying to see advancements. It would be great if we could get the cult of personnality to focus on these great minds instead of Britney Spears.
  13. Michael Bonazza from Toronto, Canada writes: These are certainly great acheivements from Canadian researchers. It is nice to see that Canadians can make some significant contributions to Cancer research. This type of research lays the foundation for therapeutics, however actually developing the therapies for use is very difficult and expensive, and WILL require private sector participation. In many cases, academic research is sold to industry for development of drugs and diagnostics, simply because there is not enough money, or a correct incentive structure to develop drugs in the public sector. Many people are quick to condemn pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies as going for the quick buck, however industry is where virtually all of our disease treatments come from, and as such we need to support industry with a sound, and not overly restrictive regulatory framework. As an aside, for the masses of Canadians that are anti-American and detest the religious right, America is where most of the research and drug development comes from, so be aware, you are criticizing the country that will probably one day save your life. Most of us already use medication that was developed in the US.
  14. Michael H from Edmonton, Canada writes: #11-As someone who does this professionally, I would agree with your assessment. Canadian medical research was approaching adequate funding under the previous Liberal government. The current government, however, has dealt a major blow to medical research in Canada. The major funding body in the country, the CIHR, is projecting a 30% cut in research project funding in the current competition. Canadian research was already operating on a mere 1/5th of the per capita funding provided by the U.S. federal government. The cancer initiative announced yesterday will have zero impact on this problem. We have exceptionally talented people doing basic biomedical research in this country but they are seriously underfunded relative to their international counterparts. We have an enormous poorly exploited capacity to generate wealth through new drugs and therapies. This opportunity is being missed. Most importantly, a continuation of the current government's policies towards research and innovation (tax incentives but no significant support of CIHR and NSERC) is a recipe to drive those of us who do this work out of the country to greener pastures. We will work tirelessly and effortlessly for little personal compensation. When the funding to do the work that we love dries up, however, we will not sit in offices and collect pay cheques while being confined to our other academic duties. We will leave. This government needs to be sent a strong message that ideological approaches based in tax incentives to stimulate private investment does not generate research support. In the absence of government-funded research, there will be nothing to invest in. Pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies do not invest in research. They invest in translating research. Without government funded research support, there is nothing to translate. Decisions over the next couple of years may well determine the extent to which we lose what has been built up over the previous 10 years.
  15. Michael H from Edmonton, Canada writes: #10-while the stem cell theory has major implications for the treatment of cancer and will require considerable investment, it is dangerous to set priorities. Setting priorities may well have prevented these discoveries from taking place. This is the major problem when governments try to direct research. Priorities will be set based upon the current fashion in science, as the article implied. It is only when there is adequate funding in the system that truly novel work such as this is most likely to emerge. The reason, conventional wisdom cannot predict what is important because we simply do not understand enough of human biology. In terms of stem cells, themselves, there is a degree of semantics to the term. For example, normal stem cells are specific thing-a progenitor. Cancer stem cells do not necessarily emerge from normal stem cells. The products of stem cells (blasts) can also de-differentiate to behave as 'stem cells'. These are things that we still have to learn.
  16. Michael H from Edmonton, Canada writes: #6-the radiation and chemotherapy doctors, or doctors period, are not the major practitioners of research. Research is largely done by Ph.D.'s not M.D.'s. #10-Pharmaceutical companies WILL NEVER invest in basic biomedical research such as this. It is ESSENTIAL that this be done by government. Pharmaceutical companies invest in the products of government-funded basic biomedical research. The problem is too vast and we understand biology too poorly for pharmaceutical companies to make major investments in basic biomedical research. Mr. Harper's government, however, is going in the opposite direction. They want private investment through tax incentives. This will NOT be RESEARCH and in the absence of adequate government investment, no amount of incentive will stimulate these companies to invest in Canada.
  17. sharon charles from Vancouver, Canada writes: An amazing story about amazing men, with the determination and passion that may finally close the door on the brutal regime of cut, burn and poison inflicted on cancer sufferers. This story lets us 'dare' to hope but also demonstrates the need for people to make the connection between political promises and the real cost behind these kind of political junk 'tax and debt' inititives. Penny tax decreases and Harpers self appointed legacy that HE will pay off the national debt in record time has a cost. With millions going into the war effort, the money that is lost under these conservative schemes has to come from somewhere? Who among us have not been touched by cancer and who amoung us would not forego penny tax dedcutions or a few years on the debt clock for a future that could bring a cure for many cancers? Mr. Harper just sways in the wind of the latest polls in fact, I am sure he uses the G&M poll to set his morning schedule. Next day we get an announcement on Cancer funding. But given the religious convictions of he and others in his 'reformed conservative' party I doubt that stem cell research will be high on his priority list for funding. How many of his actions are influcenced by religious convictions or neo-con knee-jerk think? Despite the promising research being done on Marijuana as a replacement for harsh pain killers and there equally harsh side effects, it was the first program given the axe under the Conservative government. They only see the dreaded 'weed' not the effects of an improved quality of life for people like my dad. In a life cut short by brain cancer, it lifted him out of the haze of morphine and other debilitating drugs and let him live a normal life for awhile. Do we really benefit by this political 'shell game' about tax reductions and quick repayment of the national debt? I think not.
  18. Subhadeep Chakrabarti from Canada writes: A truly wonderful story and kudos to G & M for highlighting the pioneering work being done in Canadian research laboratories. I hope to see many more inspiring articles like this reported in mass media in the not-too-distant future.
  19. Vic Hotte from Kettleby, Canada writes: Michael H from Edmonton (posts 14, 15, 16) exemplifies the sad Canadian situation for medical researchers. He also made me curious enough to go to the website for the Canadian Institutes for Health Research (CIHR) at It is written in stark bureaucratese so anyone can be intimidated by 'the filtered lists of current opportunities'. This massive website describes how CIHR 'brings health research communities together to create innovative approaches to research.' The site also describes something called a CIHR Partnership Award to recognize certain areas of research by 'formally established partnerships'. Another section provides too many options on 'translation and commercialization' of medical research. I had to give up in utter frustration because there is no way that any of the brilliant individual efforts of creative researchers, like the people described in this G&M article, will be recognized or funded under this behemoth system. Few people in their right minds would even venture into this maze. HELLO, federal government, it is time to rethink your 30% cut in current research project funding as described by Michael H. Let's ensure our medical researchers thrive within Canada.
  20. R J from Pickering, Canada writes: Am I alone in thinking that we should refer to this research as 'Genetic Engineering'.

    It's not that I object to the research, it's just that 'Genetic Engineering' sounds much more sci-fi and futuristic.

    It would lead to people realizing that this is the year 2006 and we still don't have jetpacks, collonies on the moon, no human has ever been to Mars, and it's going to be a long time before we are actually capible of curing/preventing disease/injury through treatments derived from stem-cell research.
  21. rita speedie from toronto, Canada writes: This article makes me proud to be a Canadian. Bravo Dr. John Dicks, and his research team, and to the G and M's Carolyn Abraham for her contribution to this article. About time!
  22. keith stringer from Cincinnati, United States writes: The person from Sault Ste. Marie (post 4) makes an interesting point for consideration when he writes: 'Our Canadian scientists are the quiet superstars - sounds familiar' (end quote). A rebuttal to that idea, however, would probably run along the lines that really most countries' productive scientists fit the 'quiet superstar' description, from America to England to France. Among the 'vocal superstar' group currently active and recognizable to laypersons would be really only a handful of folks in science, from Stephen Hawking (English) to John Polanyi (Canadian) to David Suzuki (Canadian) to Bill Nye (American), and many of those sorts of folks receive the limelight not for any actual research they did but rather for the comments they make of a political or social or educational nature. Thankfully, many great scientists are characterized in part by the excitement and enjoyment they obtain by trying to discover new findings, rather than in seeking the stardom of rock stars - although granted, in all countries, some scientists do fit into that latter category.
  23. Tom Grahame from Washington DC, United States writes: A wonderful article, offering the hope of actually CURING cancers by stopping their spread. Some of the newer therapies, more specific to cancers than chemo and radiation, can prolong life much longer than standard therapies (e.g., by stopping blood vessel growth feeding the tumors), with fewer side effects. Even chemo with some cancers can give many more years of life. But none are cures.

    The article touches on some repeating points in the history of science as well.

    One is that when you are cash starved, you have to use your brain more.

    I seem to remember that during the Cold War, Russian researchers made incredible discoveries with very little money. If memory holds, the reason may have been the same: they had to think very hard about how to use limited funds, and perhaps that extra focus drove their discoveries.

    The second theme has to do with how new paradigm-changing discoveries spread: older scientists, brought up in one paradigm, refuse to accept new science which younger scientists regard as irrefutable. The classic example is plate tectonics -- the old bulls of the field thought it ridiculous that plates on the earth would move around, splitting continents. But as the adage goes, science advances one death at a time, and pretty soon there were few dissidents about plate tectonics. Here, in cancer research, at a time when everything moves more quickly, the new theories -- thank goodness -- appear to gain acceptance more quickly, but there was still resistance at first (and probably still is) to the idea of cancer stem cells.

    Such resistance may have affected whether some papers on cancer stem cells were even acceptable for publication. That, too, is a little-discussed theme in science: more-estabished researchers who peer review papers may decide a paper isn't worthy of publication simply because it conflicts with the view of the world they learned and followed for decades.
  24. Dan Thompson from Union, Or USA, United States writes: The primary question is how A impacts B in one way, C in a different way, D not at all and contact with E destroys both. The reason for that is likely at level of construction more basic than cells and such. Consider, all mass is attracted to all other mass and the level of that attraction in any circumstances is dependent on the amount of mass involved, distance being one of the circumstances. Many bits of mass orbit a nucleus which causes them to be closer and further from each other in regular frequencies, ie: the attraction strength between them increaseds and decreases in regular frequencies. Like teeth on gears except the teeth are the bits of mass some of those frequencies will mesh, partly or in whole, or not at all. The result may be that they join creating new or additional units, alter one another or completely destroy each other creating new units. In any event that may be the level of construction the action occurs that result in the change of cells, etc. Everything does what its parts tell it to. It can do no other. That holds for cell interaction as well as any other thing.
  25. S M from Vancouver, Canada writes: Awesome! This is the kind of imaginative problem-solving that will lead to more effective therapies and cures.
  26. Misty Blue from Kelowna, Canada writes: I'm confused. People have been raising money by various means, cancer drives etc. for as long as I can remember. Walks across continents for money. You name it. People donate instead of buying flowers for funerals. I mean, it is absolutely huge, this donation thing. So, where is the money going if not to researchers like the ones mentioned? One would easily think that the Cancer Society would empty their very big research wallet into this venture asap now that it has come to light. Of course our government should step up and lead in this, but, where is the donated public money going if not to this? More drug research? I remember the G&M article a while ago that said cancer research was finally going to fund looking into environmental causes for cancer, long overdue in my mind. It almost seemed that the money was grudgingly earmarked and such a pitiful amount at that. What is going on?
  27. JULIE TRITES from RED DEER, Canada writes: Thank you to the Globe and Mail for the delving into the Cancer issue. It seems daily I hear about someone I know that has been diagnosed with Cancer. It was so exciting to read about the break through re stem cells. My father is battling Parkinson's Disease.... my friends mother passed away from the same disease in June. We need more stem cell research....perhaps the key to so many diseases. God bless our researchers!!!!!
  28. R. B. from Toronto, Canada writes: Vic Hotte (19) - Dr. Dick's lab has received many grants from CIHR (and its predecessor MRC). Basically, a principal investigator (PIs) will apply for the operational grants. There are other grants for new PIs who just started their labs and grants for special areas of research - the sexy topic of the day. Did you think that you would be able to spend five minutes and learn everything about CIHR?
  29. R. B. from Toronto, Canada writes: Dan Thompson (24) - you are over-complicating the nature of cell-cell interactions by introducing atomic forces into the equation. Most cell-cell interactions are the result of surface proteins attaching to one another - the forces involved would be covalent-bonding and much more powerful than dipole-dipole attraction or nuclear forces (given the distances from the atomic nucleus). keith stringer (22) - many scientists do have rockstar status within the scientific community. The catch is that they don't usually act like rockstars.
  30. R. B. from Toronto, Canada writes: Misty Blue (26) - a lot of the money that the CCA raises goes towards patient-care programs and public education.
  31. Wayne Spitzer from Faywood, United States writes: This is a very exciting development which may have important implications for the future of cancer research. However, I would point out that many of the posts don't grasp the significant difference between basic and applied research. The is an excellent example of basic research, the kind of effort most effectively carried out by medical centers, resaerch institutes, and universities. Using this information to find a treatment or cure for cancer is applied research, the kind of thing usually carried out by biotechs and pharmaceutical companies. The two kinds of research are very different, but totally interdependant. The biotechs and phramceutical companies don't do basic research and they are not very good at it. Medical centers, research institutes and universites don't do applied research, and they are not very good at it. But let each one do what they are good at, and together they can be very effective.
  32. Dan Thompson from Union, Or USA, United States writes: Apparently contributors are more interested in funding than in discussing a concept that could increase the productivity and efficiency of that funding. One benefit would be in starting from the basis and building upward for knowledge rather than from higher up the construction level and peeling chip after chip of onion skin layer away to see what's under it while still not knowing what's under even that. Research needs to start from where the action is.
  33. Dan Thompson from Union, Or USA, United States writes: RB (29) Some surface proteans attach to each other and others do not for a reason and the ones that do so are not always in the same way with the same result. Giving a name to an action does not define what causes the process of that action. That's what I suggested. The one common condition whether larger, smaller or at the nuclear level is attraction. I don't think I introduced atomic forces into the equation. Nature does and it seems reasonable that in any given circumstance the basic elements of a unit will dictate what that unit does. The force and action involved may appear different at different levels of construction but the basis for each will be the same...just extruding a different result because of a different configuration.
  34. earl smith from Brooklyn, United States writes:
    A great article with one comment illustrating that science reporters need to go to school longer. Post-doctoral fellows are NOT post-doctoral students, they are post-doctoral Fellows. They have graduated from their doctoral programs. They are supposed to be colleagues of the research group leader. They are only slaving away in their late 20s and early 30s for peanuts because of the shortage of decent research jobs. The article itself points out that the post-doc knew the literature better than the research group leader.

    Regards from a former PhD student and former post-doc.

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