Cooking up funds for cancer research

McGill University’s Rosalind and Morris Goodman Cancer Research Centre has launched The Smart Palate, delicious recipes for a healthy lifestyle. The cookbook features over 180 recipes, food facts and nutritional analyses. The Centre undertook the project to raise awareness of its groundbreaking work in cancer research.

The celebration was tinged with sadness because the driving force behind the initiative, Rosalind Goodman, had lost her own battle with lung cancer in August.

“She was a very special woman, absolutely committed to us as a centre but also to many causes,” said Dr. Morag Park, director since last year. “She was the person who brought together the volunteers and funding we needed to develop the cookbook.”

Visibly affected, Park said Goodman realized the long-term significance of research. “She was passionate about promoting research and the importance of this for the next generation.”

The centre is a state-of-the-art facility, bringing together renowned scientists in collaborative relationships between laboratory and clinic. Its goals are to support young scientists and attract the best cancer scientists internationally. “We must engage the next generation of researchers into cancer research. There is a need to be able to recruit the best and brightest, to fund these students through fellowships,” Park said.

Researchers at the centre look at the interaction of cancer cells within their microenvironment or study the earliest molecular mechanisms that lead to cancer cell development.

Studying the growth of cancer cells in the laboratory does not provide enough information, Park said. “Tumour cells are influenced by normal cells. They need help to survive and grow, so it is important to study them within a microenvironment in a living animal. They need blood supply, food and oxygen like every other cell. Tumour cells send out signals that reorganize their whole environment, providing them with nutrients. If they don’t get that, the tumour dies. Many of the treatments try to block the ability of tumour cells to recruit normal cells.”

Cancer cells taken from human beings can be grown in mice, Park explained. “You can use these models to test new models or compounds or strategies to treat cancer. We can manipulate them, test whether some drugs would work on humans.” This model creates greater possibilities of study for the researcher, Park explained.

One area of research focuses on programmed cell death, as cancer cells don’t die the way ordinary cells do. “This is the challenge of cancer– the cells are immortal,” Park said. “They have no signals telling them to stop growing, which is why we can grow them in a lab.”

To understand the way cancer cells behave, some of the research looks at factors that occur in diabetes and obesity, which also occur during the cancer disease process. Scientists are also trying to find ways of preventing or controlling the wasting away of muscles that occur during the disease, in an effort to prolong and improve quality of life.

There are significant improvements in the treatment and management of cancer, Park said. “People are actually living with breast cancer. Not always to say that they are cured but they have a long life as an individual.”

Though research is expensive, Park is excited by the possibilities the Centre affords and by the progress of cancer research in general. “I feel thrilled to have been born in this era of research. The discoveries that have been made in the last 30 years are just mind-blowing.”

The Smart Palate Cookbook by Tina Landsman Abbey, Gail Goldfarb and Joe Schwarcz, $39.95, may be purchased by calling Annette Novak at 514-398-4970 or ordered online at

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