University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Beating the Odds

Drug researchers are helping to develop new weapons in the fight against cancer

In January, I received a dispiriting e-mail message from a friend living abroad. Doctors had discovered a cancerous tumour in his right side, which would require surgery. The news was deeply worrisome, but also frighteningly common. Almost everyone these days knows someone who is dealing with cancer. According to the Canadian Cancer Society, almost 150,000 Canadians were diagnosed with the disease in 2005. A recent Globe and Mail article about “Chasing the Cancer Answer,” a CBC documentary that aired in early March, cites an even more shocking statistic: a North American’s lifetime chance of getting cancer has risen from one in 10 in the 1950s to about one in two today.

Yet as much as we know about the frequency with which cancer strikes, we still don’t know all that much about its causes or how to stop it. Dozens of doctors and professors at U of T, as well as thousands around the world, are investigating how cancer cells behave and trying to find better ways to slow their growth, eliminate them or prevent them from forming in the first place.

A promising avenue of research, which is being followed at U of T’s Leslie Dan Faculty of Pharmacy, focuses on how to deliver cancer-fighting agents to precisely where they’re needed in the body. Too often, the therapy dissipates before it arrives at the site of the cancer, or harms healthy cells while attacking cancerous ones. Professor Raymond Reilly, whose research centres on a relatively uncommon form of breast cancer, is trying to circumvent these problems by attaching a radioactive cancer-killing agent to the protein in the body that fuels the tumour’s growth. Krista Foss reports on Reilly’s promising “Trojan Horse” treatment as part of a feature highlighting the new Leslie L. Dan Pharmacy Building (“A Twist of Fate”).

It’s human nature to imagine the worst. So when statistics professor Jeffrey Rosenthal learned a week before he was slated to fly to New York City that an aircraft had crashed at the city’s John F. Kennedy International Airport, he naturally worried that his plane would be next. Then he discovered that the airport handles 5,000 flights a week, and figured he was probably safe. As U of T Magazine managing editor Stacey Gibson notes in her profile of Rosenthal (“Games of Chance” ), the 38-year-old probability expert, who moonlights as an amateur comedian, is adept at explaining to students and lay audiences how mathematical concepts, such as probabilities, play an important role in our daily lives.

Classes are a vital part of the U of T experience, but an awful lot occurs outside of the lecture hall – sometimes at unusual hours. Varsity editor Graham F. Scott explored the St. George campus over several nights in February (“After Hours” ) and spoke to students conducting experiments, playing sports, writing, performing, broadcasting, and yes, even studying. In the wee hours of the night, what shone through was the students’ dedication – to the task at hand, and often to a greater goal – and desire to succeed. As second year-student and varsity swimmer Marco Monaco put it: “It’s the will to win.”

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