For my last post, I want to talk about some of the work we’re doing in collaboration with the BC Cancer Agency’s ovarian cancer research program, OvCaRe.

Back in 1896, a Scotsman named George Beatson became the first doctor to treat breast cancer patients by removing their ovaries. This was a very crude treatment, especially considering the state of surgical techniques at the time, but it actually worked for some patients. We now know that this is because some breast tumours are fueled by female hormones — like estrogen — that are made in the ovaries.

Of course, we’ve come a long way since then — although we still treat some breast cancer patients with drugs that target estrogen.  And as we learn more about breast and ovarian cancers, more similarities become apparent. For example, we now know that women who inherit mutations in the BRCA (BReast CAncer) genes have a much higher than average risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers.

It, therefore, makes a lot of sense for the BC Cancer Agency’s breast and ovarian cancer researchers to work together and coordinate our efforts to learn from each other’s findings.

The most active area of combined research at the moment is the sequencing of breast and ovarian tumour genomes.  The breast and ovarian teams share personnel and methods and, as a result, we have made several very important findings over the last couple of years. You can read about those breakthroughs here, here and here.

We’re also working together on clinical trials, like the ongoing test of a new drug combination in breast and ovarian cancer patients with inherited BRCA gene mutations.

This kind of work requires investment and partnership, and we are lucky to have very generous partners. For example, last year we announced a $9-million, three-year collaboration with Pfizer.  We also have an agreement with Japan’s Takeda Pharmaceutical. Both collaborations aim to identify new treatments for breast, ovarian and prostate cancer.

And of course, the Weekend to End Breast Cancer, which benefits our partner the BC Cancer Foundation, was recently re-named the Weekend to End Women’s Cancers to better reflect the need to fund and research all women’s cancers in a coordinated effort.

We’ve come a long way since the days of George Beatson but we still haven’t won the fight against cancer. We need to keep pushing forward. My deepest thanks to the many thousands of people who have walked, supported and donated to this event and others, which have been so instrumental in our ability to conduct research and leverage more funding.

I hope I’ve showed you a bit about what goes on in my lab, and how we research breast (and other women’s cancers) here in British Columbia at the BC Cancer Agency.  But of course, I still welcome any questions!

Sam

Senior Scientist, BC Cancer Agency Research Centre