Research effort to study link between shift work and colorectal cancer

It’s no secret shift work can wreak havoc on your health.

A grant handed out Wednesday under a program backed by the Windsor Essex County Cancer Centre Foundation will help a University of Windsor researcher in determining any connection between shift work and colorectal cancer.

“This is not to discover a drug,” said Phillip Karpowicz, an assistant professor in the university’s biological science department who will lead the study.

“It’s more preventative. It’s to help identify individuals who are more susceptible to cancer and determine how much more susceptible.”

Colorectoral cancer is the third most common cancer in Canada. There are also higher incidence of the disease and lower survival rates in Windsor and Essex County than the rest of Ontario.

There are three per cent more colorectal cancers locally than the provincial average. Colorectal patients here have a 60 per cent survival rate compared to 64.4 per cent in the rest of Ontario.

When it comes to shift work, the Windsor area’s largest employers such as the Windsor Assembly plant, Caesars Windsor, local hospitals, police and fire services also feature a high proportion of shifts outside the 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. norm that see sleep patterns for employees constantly changed.

Karpowicz was among three recipients named to receive two-year grants which overall total $233,500 under the cancer foundation’s Seeds4Hope — a program in its seventh year which focuses on assisting projects outside the mainstream of cancer research.

Karpowicz has long studied the impact on the body’s cells when the natural 24-hour rhythms are disrupted by changes in sleep patterns, such as those caused by shift work.

The disruptions affect sleep, how we metabolize food, plus a body’s ability to grow or heal, he said.

“We know there are increased rates of cancer with shift work,” Karpowicz said.

He expects findings from the two-year shift work study cannot only be applied in determining whether there are increased number of colorectal cancers, but also used to assess how often those who suffer from colitis or Crohn’s disease eventually get cancer.

Also receiving a Seed4Hope grant Wednesday was university chemistry professor James Gauld who will study mutations in cancer-related proteins that may hopefully lead to making better decisions on combination therapies to fight cancer.

Another university chemistry professor, Lisa Porter, received a grant to study a cancer-related protein known as Spy1 that plays a large role in the progression of many liver cancers. It is hoped her efforts lead to better treatment intervention.

Seeds4Hope since 2009 has awarded nearly $1.7 million in grants to support local cancer research.

The program is led by Michael Dufresne, a retired University of Windsor researcher who touts the importance of helping such local cancer research efforts that may never otherwise qualify for grants from big national research funders.

“It means so much to me because I know how difficult it is to get funded and have the local community involved,” he said. “Because of how the funding works, the best people often leave small cities for bigger areas. Having something like this is so important to our community.”

Dufresne often cites the example of the da Vinci robot surgery machine frequently used to fight prostate cancer.

“What I try to educate people is the research today will be achieving results in 20 years,” he said. “If you don’t have that, you wouldn’t have the da Vinci machine.”

Mortality for cancer does remain high, but survival rates through the years keep increasing, Dufresne said. “A magic bullet is not in our future (to eliminate cancer),” he said. “With the calibre of research and calibre of people, more and more types of cancers are being cured all the time.”

Source: The Windsor Star