Winnipeg police half-marathon on pace to cruise past fundraising milestone for brain cancer research

A Saskatchewan researcher says his team is on the brink of "groundbreaking" treatment for brain cancer — and runners in Winnipeg may help them meet their goal.

WPS half-marathon, now in its 15th year, has raised almost $2 million for cancer research

Dr. Ron Geyer is leading a team of researchers at the University of Saskatchewan who have been developing imaging technology to help diagnose and treat brain cancer. 'We're all in this together,' Geyer said. 'We all know people affected by brain cancer.' (John Einarson/CBC)

A Saskatchewan researcher says his team is on the brink of "groundbreaking" treatment for brain cancer — and runners in Winnipeg could help them meet their goal.

At a launch event in Winnipeg Thursday, the Winnipeg Police Service said it is on pace to break a fundraising milestone with this year's half-marathon event — money that will go toward the fight against one of the deadliest forms of cancer. 

Glioblastoma is the aggressive brain cancer that killed Tragically Hip frontman Gord Downie and Winnipeg woman Joanne Schiewe — a runner, Tragically Hip fan and cancer research advocate whose story touched many Winnipeggers.

"Sadly, all of us know someone who has this diagnosis, and with the aging population we'll see an increase in cancer cases over the next 12 years by 40 per cent," Dan Holinda, the Prairie regional director for the Canadian Cancer Society, said at the Thursday launch event.

"So it's more urgent now to start working and helping those hard to treat cancers."

The Foodfare-Winnipeg Police Service Half-Marathon takes place on May 5, starting at Assiniboine Park. Now in its 15th year, it's so far raised just shy of $2 million — a fundraising mark organizers expect to cruise past this year.

Left to right: Dr. Ron Geyer, Winnipeg police Supt. Scot Halley, Mayor Brian Bowman, Manitoba Justice Minister Cliff Cullen and the Canadian Cancer Society's Dan Holinda kick off the 15th annual Foodfare-WPS Half-Marathon in Winnipeg on Thursday. (John Einarson/CBC)

During its first 10 years, the event raised $1 million for cancer research. The focus shifted to raising funds specifically for brain cancer research four years ago, which came with a partnership with the Canadian Cancer Society and Brain Canada that sees money raised by runners matched dollar-for-dollar.

'This is a huge accomplishment'

Researchers from Saskatchewan were in Winnipeg Thursday to help launch this year's half-marathon.

Dr. Ron Geyer is leading one of many brain cancer research groups which will benefit from this year's fundraiser.

He said his team of researchers at the University of Saskatchewan are working on treatment involving synthetic antibody-based imaging technology to help surgeons better detect cancer in the brain, and remove it.

"We have a PET [positron imaging tomography] imaging probe, or radioactive probe, that allows you to go and get a whole body, non-invasive image and detect the presence of the tumour," said Geyer, who hopes to start clinical trials this summer after an application was recently approved by Health Canada.

Geyer said the antibody parts can be injected into the patient just before the procedure, which emits light and helps doctors distinguish the cancerous tissue from the healthy tissue.

"This is a huge accomplishment for our research group," Geyer said.

Survival rates 

Geyer said the goal of the research is to improve survival rates for glioblastoma. In most cases, people diagnosed with the disease live only 12 to 24 months, even with aggressive treatment, according to the Canadian Cancer Society.

About 2,400 Canadians die from brain cancer every year.

"It has touched the lives of everyone here," said Winnipeg police Supt. Scot Halley.

"Over my 25 years as a member of the Winnipeg Police Service, I've seen far too many of our members forced to fight this disease," he said.

Registration for the half-marathon is now open to runners and walkers of all skill levels.

People can register online at the Winnipeg Police Service Half-Marathon website, or at the Canadian Cancer Society office located at 193 Sherbrook St.