Head of the Centre for Clinical Diagnostic Genomics and the Medical Director of the Cancer Genetics Lab, BC Cancer Agency

Eventually, I wanted to enhance the bridging of my clinical and research work, and the BC Cancer Agency was—and continues to be—a great place to do that because it is both a research and care organization. I knew that my clinical expertise could inform my research in exciting and meaningful ways and vice versa.

The bridge I found was through the study of myeloid cancers – with a particular focus on a type of pre-leukemia called myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS).  “Myeloid” means having to do with white blood cells. About 30-40% of patients with MDS will transform to acute myeloid leukemia (AML), which is a very aggressive form of leukemia.

AML affects approximately 200 British Columbians per year and it is fatal without appropriate therapy. Treatment options include chemotherapy and stem cell transplantation (SCT). Certain genetic markers can also be used to predict whether a patient would be a good candidate for SCT, or whether conventional chemotherapy is a more appropriate option.

My research lab is engaged in understanding the molecular and cellular mechanisms that initiate MDS, with the hope of identifying and understanding the function of the genomic abnormalities that contribute to AML transformation.

AML research is also helping us gain a greater molecular understanding of cancer mechanisms. One of the reasons for this is AML is quite far ahead of other cancer types with respect to the number of mutations that we look at in order to understand the prognosis of the patient and how they should be treated. Research logistics to study AML are also easier here because the therapy for AML – stem cell transplantation – is centralized in B.C. along with the leukemia / bone marrow transplant program. And there is an excellent resource in the Hematology Cell Bank that provides us with bone marrow specimens generously donated by patients that we can use forour genetic sequencing research work.