​​National Hockey League Commissioner Gary Bettman visiting the lab of Dr. Gelareh Zadeh, Senior Scientist at UHN’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre. (Photo: UHN)​

The V Foundation for Cancer Research, the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players Association (NHLPA) have granted Dr. Gelareh Zadeh, a Senior Scientist at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, US$800,000 for research focused on identifying more personalized treatment options for adults with brain tumours.

The grant was announced at the NHL All-Star Game at Scotiabank Arena in Toronto, which Dr. Zadeh attended on Saturday, Feb. 3 with her husband.

"This grant will help us get the word out about this important research, research that could dramatically improve meningioma treatment and will represent a significant shift forward in neuro-oncology," says Dr. Zadeh, who is also Head of Neurosurgery at Toronto Western Hospital and co-Director of UHN's Krembil Brain Institute.

This is the first research grant to be awarded through Hockey Fights Cancer, which is powered by the V Foundation, a U.S. cancer charity. Their partnership with the NHL began in the summer of 2023, ahead of the 25th anniversary of Hockey Fights Cancer – founded as a joint initiative of the NHL and the NHLPA.

Dr. Zadeh says her project, a high-risk, high-reward study, is not easy to fund through traditional sources. Her team has identified four subtypes of meningiomas, or brain tumours, and treatment depends on these subtypes.

"This project will help us determine whether any of those four are going to respond to a particular treatment, whether we can use a blood test to determine the outcome for the four categories and, more importantly, whether intervening is going to be something that helps a patient versus another based on the categories they fall into," she says.

The National Hockey League, National Hockey League Players Association and V Foundation for Cancer Research presented a grant worth US$800,000 to Dr. Gelareh Zadeh while on a tour of her lab during NHL All-Star festivities in Toronto. (Photo: UHN)

Last week, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman, Marty Walsh, Executive Director of the NHLPA,  Dr. Susanna Greer, Chief Scientific Officer of the V Foundation, and Shane Jacobson, CEO of the V Foundation, toured Dr. Zadeh's lab, at the Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower to get an up-close look at her work. Dr. Kevin Smith, UHN President & CEO, and Brad Wouters, UHN Executive Vice President, Science & Research, joined the tour.

Commissioner Bettman shared that his mother died of brain cancer four decades ago, and noted that many NHL players have lost family members to cancer and have seen former players die of the disease.

"This gives us an opportunity to further cutting-edge research in trying to deal with the various forms of cancer, how to diagnose, detect and treat," Marty Walsh said. “The research that Dr. Zadeh is going to be doing with our grant is going to advance the cause of focusing on brain tumours probably beyond anything we've ever seen.

"What we're doing here is really making investments in cancer research and having everyone come together and use the power of the player in the NHL."

Dr. Greer added: "We find the best of the best who are putting their best ideas forward, the ideas that take your breath away a little bit. That means that what comes out of that will be changes in how we diagnose, prevent and treat cancer that absolutely blow our minds.

"To me, that's worth taking a risk."

Dr. Smith noted UHN is grateful to receive the first grant through the Hockey Fights Cancer initiative.

"Dr. Zadeh's cancer lab is always skating where the puck is going and advancing new thinking around this disease," he said. "This grant will allow Dr. Zadeh, who has long been an all-star at UHN, to drive more vital research to improve treatment of meningiomas."

While many meningiomas are treatable with surgery, some need additional radiation to delay recurrence. Molecular profiling, particularly DNA methylation analysis, helps predict tumour recurrence post-surgery. The grant will enable Dr. Zadeh to:

  • Develop a predictor using molecular signatures to determine meningioma response to radiation
  • Test this predictor in a novel clinical trial integrating real-time molecular-pathology data
  • Determine if these signatures can also be identified non-invasively through a blood test.
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