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New Brunswick team awarded $5-million to research multiple myeloma treatments

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A New Brunswick led team has been awarded $5 million from the Terry Fox Research Institute to find better treatments for people with an incurable form of cancer known as multiple myeloma.

"We want to give them a longer life, and hopefully one day, a cure," said Dr. Victor Ling, president of the institute.

"We are trying to bring together the best people that are treating and working with multiple myeloma so that they can share their knowledge," he said.

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Dr. Tony Reiman, an oncologist and professor at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, will lead the team of researchers located in about a dozen centres across Canada, including Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal.

Multiple myeloma is found primarily in the bones and bone marrow and tends to affect older patients. About 2,800 Canadians are diagnosed with it each year. In the United States that number is 30,000, and worldwide it's more than 100,000.

The doctors say while many patients do well with their first treatments, there tend to be remaining cells that mutate.

"In the hundreds of millions of cells there might be one that might be changed in a way that's a little different from the other cells, so they become resistant to the treatment," Ling said.

Reiman said 250 patients will participate in the five-year study.

"Those patients are going to provide us with information about their disease and how things go with their treatment. They are going to provide us with blood and bone marrow for the research. There will be research laboratories across Canada working with this material provided by these patients to better understand their disease, particularly the bits of their disease that survive treatment and eventually cause relapse," he said.

The average lifespan for people, once they've been diagnosed with myeloma, is four to five years. Younger, stronger patients have a lifespan of about seven years.

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Reiman said all patients are currently treated and monitored the same way, but that has to change.

"We're working with sensitive newer techniques to better understand characteristics of the disease that escape our treatments and persist, even during clinical remission ... so we can find better ways to kill those cells that survive the treatment," he said.

The Terry Fox Research Institute has been in operation for about 10 years, but this is the first of its studies led by doctors in New Brunswick.

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