Clinical Director, BC Cancer Agency Centre for Lymphoid Cancer

Throughout the 1980s and '90s, the BC Cancer Agency’s lymphoma research group grew steadily. Clinical staff in Medical Oncology, Radiation Oncology and Pathology conducted research projects that helped define internationally recognized treatment policies for Hodgkin lymphoma, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, lymphocytic leukemia and myeloma.

We participated in and led national and international clinical trials and collaborated with clinical researchers across Canada and internationally. However, at home in Vancouver, Drs. Gascoyne, Horsman and I realized we needed to add more basic lymphoid cancer research if we hoped to genuinely advance the understanding of why these diseases occur and how to design new, more effective treatments. In short, we needed a translational research program to complement our established strength in clinical research.

Here in B.C. we were joined by research scientists in Epidemiology, led by Drs. John Spinelli and Richard Gallagher, who made pivotal observations linking environmental organochlorines, which are compounds found in insecticides, solvents, etc. like DDT, with the development of lymphoma. The power of our growing clinical and hematopathology database attracted the attention of scientists interested in lymphoid cancer around the world.

We were invited to join the Lymphoma-Leukemia Molecular Profiling Project, which assembled basic and clinical scientists in Europe, the United States and Canada to publish the definitive papers describing how gene expression profiling can provide new insights into basic lymphoma classification and biology. As these efforts proved fruitful we needed a way to describe our research group both to enhance our ability to attract research funding and to facilitate internal communication among our graduate students, post-docs, new faculty and senior investigators.

This led to the formation of the Centre for Lymphoid Cancer (CLC), a virtual group of investigators from clinical care, hematopathology, cytogenetics, epidemiology, stem cell transplantation, molecular genetics and experimental therapeutics.

By the 2000s the CLC had reached a critical mass and possessed all the elements of a world-class research centre focused on lymphoid cancer. One crucial element was missing, however. We needed access to the cutting edge technologies essential to make our own discoveries and we needed that science to be going on right here in Vancouver, B.C. Next week we will describe just how this was accomplished.

Joseph M. Connors, MD