Dr. Elizabeth Eisenhauer

MD, FRCP, Professor-Department of Oncology-Queen's University
Researcher of the month: 
Apr 2010

Cancer is the leading cause of premature death in Canada – an estimated 1 out of every 4 Canadians are expected to die from cancer this year. Chances are, each and every one of our lives will be touched in some way by this harsh statistic. The good news is that when it comes to understanding and controlling cancer, researchers from Canada and around the world are truly beginning to make cancer history.

As Director of the Investigational New Drug Program of the NCIC Clinical Trials Group, a cooperative oncology group which carries out clinical trials in cancer therapy, supportive care and prevention across Canada and internationally, Dr. Elizabeth Eisenhauer has been a considerable force in moving cancer researchers to a position of strength. She has conducted more than 175 clinical trials of new cancer therapies, several of which eventually proved to be effective in cancer treatment and have found their way into standard care for patients.

“We are closer than ever to understanding, treating and controlling the many diseases called cancer,” says Dr. Eisenhauer.

The NCIC Clinical Trials Group is one of the national programmes and networks of the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute (CCSRI), an organization that funds the most promising cancer research through its world-renowned peer review process, as well its programs that help train, develop and support the next generation of cancer researchers.

Dr. Eisenhauer holds a medical degree from Queen's University and completed Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons training in both internal medicine and hematology. She has served on committees for many national and international bodies, including the Canadian Cancer Society, the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, the European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer, the American Society of Clinical Oncology and the U.S. National Cancer Institute. In 2002 she was awarded the O. Harold Warwick Prize by the NCIC, which recognizes a scientist whose research has had a major impact in Cancer Control in Canada.

From the time she was a young girl growing up in Kingston, Dr. Eisenhauer recalls being fascinated by biology and the study of human disease. Since her mother had worked as a research technician in hematology, it made sense for her to establish the Edith Eisenhauer Chair in Clinical Cancer Research, in memory of her mother, who died of breast cancer in 1970. The establishment of the Edith Eisenhauer Chair in Clinical Cancer Research was made possible by a $3.8 million gift from Dr. Eisenhauer–the largest ever by a Queen’s faculty member to the University–whose funds were also directed towards the construction of the Cancer Research Institute at Queen’s.

As a result of her work, a number of new drugs have been approved for general use, including treatments for breast and ovarian cancer, leukemia, and sarcoma.

“Because of the tremendous strides made in our understanding of what makes cells lose control and turn cancerous, drugs today are much more targeted to specific molecular changes fundamental to how cancer occurs,” says Dr. Eisenhauer.

“It’s a very exciting time to be working in this field, since so many promising new agents are being brought into clinical trial and which will lead to new treatments for people with cancer.”

While tirelessly pursuing her work in the clinical study of promising new cancer drugs in the NCIC Clinical Trials Group, Dr. Eisenhauer is also the Chair of the Research Advisory Group of the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer, and Co-Chair of the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance, where she is working with colleagues across Canada to develop a national cancer research strategy and help with the oversight of the Partnership’s key research investments. These include the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project – the largest cohort study of its kind in Canada to investigate behavioural and environmental factors leading to cancer and other diseases – and a biomarker translational research initiative being conducted in partnership with the Terry Fox Research Institute.

Nancy Dorrance