Key Investments

Creating the new gold standard: Personalized Cancer Medicine

As one of the top 5 cancer research centres in the world, The Princess Margaret is leading the way in creating the new gold standard in cancer care: Personalized Cancer Medicine.
We know that cancer is a disease that occurs in our genome. That’s why the ultimate goal of The Princess Margaret is to develop a “genetic fingerprint” for every patient under our care and then provide treatment that specifically targets their individual cancer.
Recent advances in genetic research are the reason that we believe we will Conquer Cancer in Our Lifetime. But decoding thousands of genetic cancer puzzles takes enormous investment and the expertise of a leading cancer research centre like The Princess Margaret.
Cancer Stem Cells
Erasing cancer’s blueprint

Stem cells are the blueprints of our living tissue, for everything from muscles to organs, corneas to skin. Cancer stem cells produce cancerous tissue-based cells that grow out of control and form tumours.

At The Princess Margaret, the “fathers of stem cell research,” Dr. James Till and the late Dr. Ernest McCulloch, first proved the existence of stem cells in 1961. Now, over 50 years later, The Princess Margaret is a world leader in cancer stem cell research, making discoveries that are still saving, enhancing and prolonging the lives of people around the world.
For example, Dr. John Dick, who first identified leukemia stem cells (1994) and colon cancer stem cells (2007), recently made another breakthrough. He and his team found a way to genetically stop a colon cancer stem cell from generating malignant cells. Then they treated those cells with a new drug to see if it would shut down the cancer stem cells before they could spawn a tumour. Not only did it work remarkably well, but the drug also massively reduced existing tumours in mouse models.
This promising development could stop colon cancer stem cells from reactivating after treatment, which could prevent certain types of colon cancer from recurring. Dr. Dick’s discovery could readily translate into the first human clinical trials in the near future.
With your support for our Billion Dollar Challenge, further investigation into cancer stem cells will unlock clues to facilitate more targeted treatments that can eliminate cancer without damaging healthy tissue.

To learn more about how you can support Cancer Stem Cells, please contact Anthony Keating, CFRE, Campaign Director at (416) 946-2138 or  
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Looking for a genetic on/off switch

Cancer is a disease of the genome (our basic genetic makeup) and the more we learn about tumours, the more we are finding that each tumour has its own set of genetic changes or mutations.
Understanding the specific mutations in cancer cells is leading to better treatments that are tailored to each patient’s genetic “fingerprint.”
Epigenetics is the study of how the genome is packaged. There are three metres of DNA packed into each cell in your body! Although all of your cells have the same DNA, it is packaged differently in different cells (e.g. heart cells, liver cells). This allows specific sets of genes to be turned “on” or “off” in each cell.
New research shows this packaging is different for normal and cancerous cells, and can be unique to each patient. So to harness the full power of Personalized Cancer Medicine, we need to understand those differences and find the on/off switch that regulates cells. The exciting news is that the genetic regulators of cell packaging can be affected by drugs, which can be used to target a patient’s individual cancer.
To learn more about how you can support Epigenetics, please contact Christy Morrow,Campaign Director at (416) 946-2107 or

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Guided Therapeutics Program
Superhero vision in one of the world’s best operating rooms

Most people think that superhero X-ray vision is nothing more than comic book fiction. But at The Princess Margaret, our new Guided Therapeutics Operating Room (GTx OR) is super close to giving doctors this kind of power.
Instead of standing over a patient, doctors sit at what they call their “GPS dashboard,” controlling a robot with multiple arms. On the screen is a precise 3D image of the tumour, including parts that aren’t visible to the naked eye.
This image-guidance system uses a CT scanner, a C-arm for cone-beam CT/fluoroscopy, higher performance ultrasound, fluorescence imaging and optical tracking systems.
All of this sophisticated technology gives doctors the ability to precisely target a tumour in order to remove it or zap it with radiation. That precision minimizes the impact to surrounding healthy tissue, which means better outcomes and faster recovery times for patients.
These state-of-the-art operations have begun at The Princess Margaret, but the GTx OR teams need two new surgical robots and other technology, as well as a biomedical engineer and other staff, to realize the full potential of this futuristic method for treating cancer.
To learn more about how you can support Guided Therapeutics, please contact Malka Greene, Associate Campaign Director at (416) 946-4668 or

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Tumour Immunotherapy Program
Helping the body to heal itself

Our immune system provides an amazing line of defense against a whole host of viruses and bacteria. Researchers have found the immune system even mounts its own attacks when cancer begins. So why does it fail? And how can we help it succeed?
Some of the world’s top immunologists at The Princess Margaret are now hard at work finding the answers to those crucial questions.
Dr. Pamela Ohashi (Senior Scientist and Director, Tumour Immunotherapy Program) recently began a clinical trial in which cancer-fighting T-cells, the workhorses of the immune system, are extracted from a patient’s tumour. Scientists use growth stimulants to dramatically increase the number of these T-cells and then they are transferred back to the patient in the hope of launching a stronger immune attack against the patient’s cancer. 
The Princess Margaret is proud to be leading Canada’s most comprehensive Tumour Immunotherapy  Program.
As examples of Personalized Cancer Medicine, these immune treatments will be as individual as the patients involved. But maintaining the integrity of a patient’s immune system will be a delicate balance. That’s why part of our Billion Dollar Challenge will be directed toward building an immune monitoring laboratory to measure immune response, along with more clinical trials and hiring additional immunologists to do research.
To learn more about how you can support Tumour Immunotherapy Program, please contact Shannon Stuart, Senior Campaign Director at (416) 946-6571 or

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Molecular Imaging
The next frontier in diagnostics

Molecular imaging provides doctors and researchers with a detailed look of how the body is functioning at a molecular and cellular level. It can help them predict the aggressiveness of a tumour, determine the best course of therapy, and monitor how a patient responds to that treatment.
Molecular imaging picks up on cancer cell mutations earlier than a CT or MRI scan can detect a developing tumour. That’s why, as part of our Billion Dollar Challenge, we want to give our patients access to the latest in molecular imaging technology, such as Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scanning.
After tracers are injected into the bloodstream, the PET scanner finds cancerous “hot spots” where those tracers gather. Doctors use this information to pinpoint the location of a tumour and see how widespread the cancer has become. Then they can create personalized treatment plans based on the molecular properties of the cancer and the patient’s individual genetic “fingerprint.”
Afterward, the PET scanner can reveal how the cancer is responding to this personalized therapy, allowing doctors to quickly adjust treatment plans and monitor for any recurrence of cancer.

To learn more about how you can support Molecular Imaging, please contact Christy Morrow, Campaign Director at (416) 946-2107 or
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A new field with the potential to revolutionize the way cancer is treated.

Nanotechnology is an exciting new field that has the potential to revolutionize the way cancer is treated. Many new techniques are still in the concept stage, but some are already being tested in clinical trials.

Through nanotechnology, scientists at The Princess Margaret are creating substances resembling colourful balloons that are the size of molecules. These nanoparticles are less than 100 nanometers in size – roughly 1/1,000th of the width of a sheet of paper. Engineered to be attracted to cancer cells, the nanoparticles allow doctors to see and target tumours more precisely.

Senior Scientist Dr. Gang Zheng and his team have combined two naturally occurring substances to create nanoparticles that are both non-toxic and biodegradable.

The nanoparticle “balloons” can be filled with drugs to treat the tumour being targeted, while sparing nearby healthy tissue. The goal is to lower the overall drug dosage to reduce side effects and improve outcomes for patients.

Not only do these nanoparticles accumulate in a tumour, they also have the ability to absorb light. When scientists target the particles with laser light, they rapidly heat up the tumour and destroy it.

Dr. Zheng’s nanoparticle can also be easily turned into an imaging agent for positron emission tomography (PET) with the addition of radioisotope metal ions. His next clinical trial will focus on unlocking this imaging potential for cancer that has spread to lymph nodes.

Another possible application is photoacoustic imaging, which combines light and sound to produce a high-resolution image that helps doctors find and target tumours. Once the particle arrives in a tumour, it becomes fluorescent to signal it has found the target.

Dr. Zheng’s nanoparticle has the potential to be multi-functional, which means it could provide “one-stop shopping” for cancer treatment and imaging. His discovery was identified as one of the top 10 breakthroughs in cancer research for 2011 by the Canadian Cancer Society.

One day in the near future, doctors will be able to inject drug-loaded nanoparticles into a patient, confirm the arrival of the drug at the right target, know exactly when the drug is released, and confirm that the drug has been effective.

To learn more about how you can support nanotechnology, please contact Christy Morrow, Campaign Director at (416) 946-2107 or

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Precision Genomics
Decoding genetic fingerprints

Cancer is a genetic disease caused by the accumulation of mutations in your DNA. These accumulations happen randomly, which is why every person’s cancer looks different at the genetic level, even when it occurs in the same part of the body.
Precision genomics seeks to understand the genetic drivers of a patient’s cancer, so it can be targeted with a specialized treatment plan. This individualized approach is at the heart of The Princess Margaret’s challenge to deliver Personalized Cancer Medicine to all of our patients.
Genomic information is already saving lives at The Princess Margaret, through drugs like Herceptin for breast cancer and Gleevec for leukemia. Studies have also shown that lung cancer patients with a particular mutation, called EGFR, respond well to the drugs Iressa and Tarceva. Such targeted therapies have the potential to improve health care costs by ensuring that only patients who will benefit receive the drug.
The Princess Margaret is committed to investing in this new gold standard in cancer care. Our Billion Dollar Challenge will fund the continued search for genetic mutations associated with specific cancers, so we can offer our patients more effective ways to diagnose, treat and even prevent cancer.
To learn more about how you can support Precision Genomics, please contact Anthony Keating,CFRE, Campaign Director at (416) 946-2138 or

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Radiation Medicine

Radiation therapy attacks cancer cells using high-energy radiation from a machine outside the body or by radioactive material placed in the body near the tumour or injected into the bloodstream. Radiation kills cancer cells by damaging their DNA, but it can also damage normal cells. That’s why it’s so important to carefully plan treatment to minimize side effects.
Radiation therapy can be highly effective when used alone or in combination with other approaches like surgery, chemotherapy, or gene therapies.
The Princess Margaret’s Radiotherapy Program is the largest in Canada and among the best in the world. As recognized leaders in developing new technology and new treatment methods, we’re improving outcomes for patients locally, nationally and internationally.
As part of the Billion Dollar Challenge to create Personalized Cancer Medicine, our Radiotherapy Program is pursuing funding for three new projects:
Personalized Adaptive Radiotherapy – Using CT, MRI or molecular imaging to monitor changes in the tumour, this strategy aims to fine-tune each patient’s therapy during the course of their treatments to create the best results and reduce side effects.

Personalized Stereotactic Radiotherapy – A new method of precisely targeted radiation, developed at The Princess Margaret, that’s proving to be successful in treating cancer that has spread to just a few sites within the body.

Regenerative Radiation Medicine – A globally unique plan to offset the side effects of radiation using stem cells and other strategies to repair damaged tissue and reduce fibrosis (excess dense tissue).

To learn more about how you can support Radiation Medicine, please contact Andrea Orr, Campaign Director at (416) 946-2906 or
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Transforming Patient Care
High tech, high touch

When it comes to cancer care, building respectful partnerships with our patients is crucial to better outcomes. Known for our award-winning patient education and innovative programming, The Princess Margaret continues to explore new ways to transform patient care:
Navigators: Staff members act as personal guides through the system to help cancer patients and their loved ones cope with all stages of their cancer journey, from diagnosis to life after treatment. 

Mobile Health: By harnessing the power of mobile technology, we will be able to conveniently deliver the information and support our patients need to manage their care, directly to their smart phones and tablets.

Self-Management Applications: We’ll explore applications such as personal health records, social networking sites, medication and appointment tracking, and e-visits to ensure our patients receive care tailored to their needs.
As part of our Billion Dollar Challenge to advance Personalized Cancer Medicine, The Princess Margaret is committed to giving patients the tools they need to make the decisions that are right for them.
To learn more about how you can help transform patient care, please contact Malka Greene, Associate Campaign Director at (416) 946-4668 or

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Supportive Care
Caring for the body, mind and soul

From diagnosis to treatment and beyond, our patients face many ups and downs throughout their cancer experience. Through it all, The Princess Margaret is there.

The Supportive Care Department at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is an innovative global leader supporting patients and families at all stages of the cancer trajectory. Through patient care, research, education and international partnerships, we continue to pioneer new approaches for patients and caregivers as they cope with the impact of cancer.

Every patient support is designed to reduce stress and improve emotional wellbeing during what can be some of the most challenging times of a person’s life. Our patient-centred services include psychological counselling for patients and families, help with managing side effects, childcare at our Magic Castle, music therapy and much more.

The Princess Margaret is an international leader in outpatient and inpatient palliative care, which treats, or prevents, the symptoms and side effects of cancer and treatments. Most people think palliative care is only provided at end of life, but ideally it’s offered as soon as they are diagnosed. Our research shows that cancer patients who receive early palliative care experience less depression, increased quality of life and may even survive longer than those receiving standard cancer care.

From cooking classes to peer support, spiritual counselling to exercise programs, our Survivorship programs help cancer patients regain a sense of control over their lives. The programs are developed with the active input of survivors, who have a lot to teach us about ways to cope with their cancer.

With your help, The Princess Margaret can continue to provide cancer care that takes our patients’ physical, emotional and spiritual needs into account. Your gift will help inspire patients, and their loved ones, to have the confidence and courage to manage their cancer journey.

To learn more about how you can help provide Supportive Care, please contact Andrea Orr, Campaign Director, at (416) 946-2906 or

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