Ontario researchers play key role in identifying new colorectal cancer genes

November 17, 2008

Researchers from Ottawa and Toronto played a key role in an international team that identified four new genes for colorectal cancer. The discovery, published online in Nature Genetics on November 16, 2008, examined 38,710 genetic markers in 13,315 individuals from four countries. A total of 10 genes have now been linked to colorectal cancer, and together these genes could predict up to a six fold increase in the lifetime risk of developing colorectal cancer.

The team included Drs. Brent Zanke, Tom Hudson and Steven Gallinger. Funding was provided by Genome Canada, the Canadian Cancer Society, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and Cancer Care Ontario.

According to the Canadian Cancer Society, in 2008, an estimated 21,500 Canadians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer and 8,900 will die of it. Ontario has one of the highest rates of colorectal cancer in the world and it is the second leading cause of cancer death in the province.

An Ontario-based company called ArcticDx has licensed all 10 genes to develop a genetic test to determine if individuals are at high risk for colon cancer and may benefit from earlier and more intensive physical screening.

Colon cancer screening is currently done through tests such as the Fecal Occult Blood Test offered by Cancer Care Ontario and the Ministry of Health and Long-term Care as part of the ColonCancerCheck program.

“The benefits of this research are immense,” said Dr. Zanke. “If people know they have an increased risk of developing colorectal cancer, they can make changes to their lifestyle and undergo physical screening tests more often and that may save lives. This is a great example of how local development of Ontario-led discoveries will have a global impact.”

“Many of the world’s best health researchers are in Ontario, and that’s why major breakthroughs are happening here,” said John Wilkinson, Minister of Research and Innovation. “Ontario is committed to ensuring our researchers have the tools and resources they need to get to the global market first, with breakthroughs that will improve people’s lives along with our ability to better detect, treat and ultimately prevent diseases such as cancer. Our government is proud to support this important endeavour.”

Dr. Brent Zanke is a scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital, associate professor of Medicine at the University of Ottawa and chief scientific officer of ArcticDx. Dr. Tom Hudson is the president and scientific director of OICR. Dr. Steven Gallinger is a senior investigator at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital and is also affiliated with the University Heath Network (UHN) as Head of Hepatobiliary Surgical Oncology.

Genome Canada
Genome Canada is a private, non-profit corporation, and the primary funding and information resource relating to genomics and proteomics research in Canada. Its principal goal is to position Canada among the world leaders in genomics and proteomics research. Its mandate is to develop and implement a national strategy in genomics and proteomics research for the benefit of all Canadians in key selected areas such as agriculture, environment, fisheries, forestry, animal and human health, and new technology. For this purpose, it has received $840 million in funding from the Canadian government and co-funding from other partners over eight years, allowing it to invest a total of $1.6 billion in 131 innovative research projects and technology platforms. To learn more about Genome Canada, please visit the website at

Ontario Institute for Cancer Research
OICR is a centre of excellence, moving Ontario to the forefront of discovery and innovation. It is dedicated to research in prevention, early detection, diagnosis, treatment and control of cancer. OICR is a not-for-profit corporation funded by the Government of Ontario through the Ministry of Research and Innovation. For more information, please visit the website at

Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI) is the research arm of The Ottawa Hospital and is an affiliated institute of the University of Ottawa, closely associated with the University’s Faculties of Medicine and Health Sciences. The OHRI includes more than 1,300 scientists, clinical investigators, graduate students, postdoctoral fellows, and staff conducting research to improve the understanding, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of human disease. For more information, please visit

Cancer Care Ontario
Cancer Care Ontario (CCO) is the provincial agency responsible for continually improving cancer services. As the government’s cancer advisor, CCO works to reduce the number of people diagnosed with cancer, and make sure that patients receive better care every step of the way. CCO is also host to the Ontario Familial Colon Cancer Registry. For more information visit

Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital
The Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital, a University of Toronto affiliated research centre established in 1985, is one of the world’s leading centres in biomedical research. 34 principal investigators lead research in diabetes, cancer biology, epidemiology, stem cell research, women’s and infants’ health, neurobiology and systems biology. For more information please visit

University Health Network
UHN consists of Toronto General, Toronto Western and Princess Margaret Hospitals. The scope of research and complexity of cases at University Health Network has made it a national and international source for discovery, education and patient care. It has the largest hospital-based research program in Canada, with major research in cardiology, transplantation, neurosciences, oncology, surgical innovation, infectious diseases, and genomic medicine. University Health Network is a research hospital affiliated with the University of Toronto. For more information, please visit

For more information, please contact:

Jennifer Paterson
Director, Communications and Public Relations
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Telephone: 613-798-5555 x 19691
Mobile: 613-614-5253

Nikki Luscombe
Communications Specialist
Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute
Telephone 416-586-4800 x 2046

Jane Finlayson
Senior Public Affairs Advisor - Princess Margaret Hospital
University Health Network
Telephone: 416-946-2846
Pager: 416-790-4092

Rhea Cohen
Director of Communications
Ontario Institute for Cancer Research
Telephone: 416-673-6642
Mobile: 416-671-2846

Claudine Renauld
Vice-President, Communications and Public Affairs
Genome Canada
Telephone: 613-751-4460 ext. 129

Lenore Bromley
Senior Advisor - Public Affairs
Cancer Care Ontario | Action Cancer Ontario
Mobile : 647-388-5050