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Could a drug that has been used in Canada for over 40 years prevent the recurrence of breast cancer?

Dr. Wendy Parulekar Dr. Wendy Parulekar

This is the question that Dr. Wendy Parulekar, from Queen’s University, and an international team of researchers are trying to answer. Since 2011, CBCF – Ontario has invested almost $900,000 in a large international trial of over 3,500 patients to determine whether metformin – a safe and inexpensive drug long used to treat type II diabetes – can reduce breast cancer recurrence and improve survival in women with early-stage breast cancer.

Researchers have previously discovered a link between how glucose (sugar) and insulin are processed in the body and the risk of breast cancer recurrence. Until now, this link has not been tested in a large group of patients with early-stage breast cancer, but has been observed in studies of people with diabetes who may or may not have cancer, and in animals. This groundbreaking study will demonstrate whether metformin could be an option for women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer (with or without diabetes) that will reduce their risk of recurrence and prolong their lives.

“The study, built on extensive research by Canadian researchers, is an opportunity to save lives with a drug that is inexpensive, safe and already on the market,” explains Dr. Wendy Parulekar.

The final study results are expected in 2017. In just a few years, we’ll know if metformin is as beneficial as the research suggests it is. If it is, the finding could change how breast cancer is treated globally.

About the Grant:

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation – Ontario Region’s Research Project Grants program funds laboratory and pre-clinical investigations, clinical research, psychosocial, cancer control, survivorship, quality of life, and other breast cancer research projects. Proposed studies may include participatory, community-based methodologies. Individual projects may be for up to five years (new in 2014). Funding for each project may not exceed $150,000 per year and $450,000 in total.

Area of Focus: Treatment

Information about the Research Team:

  • Dr. Wendy Parulekar is a Medical Oncologist and Physician Coordinator for the NCIC Clinical Trials Group at Queen’s University in Kingston

  • Dr. Pam Goodwin is a Medical Oncologist at Women’s College Hospital and Mount Sinai Hospital, the Director of the Breast Program and Marvelle Koffler Breast Centre at Mount Sinai Hospital, and a Professor at the University of Toronto

  • Dr. Bingshu Chen is a Biostatistician and Assistant Professor at Queen’s University in Kingston

  • Dr. Lois Shepherd is a Pathologist at the Cancer Research Institute and Professor at Queen’s University in Kingston

  • Dr. Timothy Whelan is a Radiation Oncologist at the Juravinski cancer Centre in Hamilton, a Professor at McMaster University in Hamilton, and a Canada Research Chair in Breast Cancer Clinical Trials

  • Dr. Karen Gelmon is a Medical Oncologist and the Clinical Head of Advanced Therapeutics at the BC Cancer Agency, and a Professor at the University of British Columbia

  • Dr. Kathy Pritchard is a Medical Oncologist at the Sunnybrook Odette Cancer Centre in Toronto and a Professor at both the University of Toronto and McMaster University in Hamilton

  • Dr. Vuk Stambolic is a Senior Scientist at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, and an Associate Professor at the University of Toronto