U of W gets $750K to pursue potential cancer cause

Crest, University of Windsor, June 26, 2019. Blackburn News file photo.


The University of Windsor will use a substantial grant to look into what is believed to be a new cause of cancer.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHS) have awarded the school $750,000 to allow research on how protein cells change cell biology, fat accumulation on the liver, and how this can eventually lead to liver cancer.

The grant was awarded after Dr. Bre-Anne Fifield, adjunct assistant professor in biomedical sciences at U of W, discovered a protein, dubbed Speedy, that is capable of enhancing the proliferation of liver cells and promoting the development of Non-Alcohol Fatty Liver Disease (NAFLD), with an increased susceptibility of progressing to hepatocellular carcinoma, or HCC.

“HCC is one of the leading causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide, with a five-year survival rate of only 20 per cent,” said Dr. Fifield. “And there are no effective treatments available for advanced stages of HCC.”

Fifield discovered the protein by accident in 2011 while studying the effects of breast cancer as a graduate student.

“We developed a new mouse model for studying breast cancer, and over time, I was surprised to find that the older males didn’t seem healthy,” said Fifield. “When I explored this further, I found that mice with high amounts of Speedy in the liver were developing HCC at significantly higher rates, and these mice also had NAFLD.”

The condition known as NAFLD is the most common liver malady in the developed world, affecting about a quarter of people in Canada and the U.S. The disorder is typically linked to poor diet and obesity.

Dr. Lisa Porter, WE-SPARK Health Institute Executive Director, and distinguished professor in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Windsor, will serve as principal investigator on the project. Assisting will be Dr. Matthew Krause, Associate Professor in the Department of Kinesiology, and Dr. Abdulkadir Hussein, Professor in the Department of Mathematics.