Nov. 5, 2019

At the forefront of brain cancer research

For Calgary neurosurgeon Dr. John Kelly, MD, PhD, a major focus of his life’s work is on pursuing new approaches to help cancer patients live longer and with a better quality of life.

Here are some interesting facts about Dr. John Kelly, MD, PhD, and the work being done at the University of Calgary in cancer research:

  • Kelly is one of 12 clinician scientists who are part of the Clark H. Smith Brain Tumour Centre, a highly specialized group within the Cumming School of Medicine’s Arnie Charbonneau Cancer Institute. The centre’s investigators focus on understanding how brain cancer develops and progresses, identifying the stem cells that give rise to brain cancers, understanding the unique biology of brain tumours in children, and learning how to activate the immune system to control the growth of brain cancers.
  • Kelly’s research focuses on a type of brain cancer called glioblastoma. He leads groundbreaking work investigating the biology of these cancerous tumours and ultimately pursuing new therapies and treatment strategies. An area of significant focus is the role of brain tumour stem cells — thought to initiate tumours, drive growth, and lead to recurrence following treatment.
  • His research includes a new model system for studying glioblastomas, the first of its kind in Western Canada.
Dr. John Kelly, MD, PhD

Dr. John Kelly, MD, PhD

Clark H. Smith Brain Tumour Centre

Brain cancer remains one the most difficult cancers to treat in adults and has one of the lowest survival rates of all cancers. Founded in 2004 through the generous support from the family of Clark H. Smith, the centre bearing his name serves as a catalyst for better understanding brain cancer and improving treatments to help patients and families affected by the disease.

Since its opening, the Clark H. Smith Brain Tumour Centre has made several advances, including the development of new models for studying brain cancer. Through these models, researchers have gained an improved understanding of the biology of brain cancer and are using this information to identify molecular pathways that can potentially be targeted with cancer drugs. The study of the molecular features of oligodendroglioma (a type of brain cancer) has enabled the centre’s researchers to make more informed decisions about treatment and improve life expectancy for patients. Tissue banking capacity, including a brain cancer stem cell facility and live tissue repository, is fueling research both internationally and nationally.

Researchers are now focusing on understanding how to prevent drug resistance in glioblastoma and how to target metabolic changes to improve treatment. They are working to understand which gene mutations are responsible for tumour growth and how the interactions between cells and immune molecules within the brain affect the tumours. Finally, researchers are investigating the role of stem cells, clonal evolution, and tumour heterogeneity (the observation that tumour cells can have distinct profiles) in brain cancer treatment resistance.

More about glioblastoma

Glioblastoma is the most common and most aggressive cancer originating in the brain. Symptoms can range from seizures, headaches, and memory loss to changes in personality. In recent years, there has been increased public attention and awareness about glioblastoma due in part to cases involving Canadian singer Gord Downie and American politician John McCain.