BREAKTHROUGH

SPRING 2019

Features

Jennifer Chen, breast cancer survivor with baby Xyla and husband Darren

BREAST CANCER DIAGNOSIS BRINGS COUPLE MIRACLE BABY GIRL

We feel so blessed, and it sounds strange, but we have cancer to thank for it.

Jennifer Chen, breast cancer survivor

Jennifer Chen was a fit, healthy non-smoker when she found a breast lump during a self-exam nearly five years ago. Jennifer’s oncologist at BC Cancer confirmed the lump was Stage II breast cancer. “At first I thought the doctors must have made a mistake—I had run the Vancouver half marathon a few weeks before and felt great! But reality set in when I met my oncologist and was immediately booked for surgery and chemotherapy,” she says. Jennifer and her husband Darren, two professionals in the marketing and tech worlds in Vancouver, were enjoying their time travelling as a couple and had not yet planned on having children.

After her diagnosis, Jennifer underwent immediate surgery and treatment. “BC Cancer is regarded as one of the best centres in the world for breast cancer so I was extremely confident that I was getting the best care possible,” she says.

When the couple was told that chemotherapy may cause permanent menopause, therefore infertility, they had to make a critical decision with a one-chance window. “Fortunately, my oncologist told us about Fertile Future, a Canadian non-profit organization that provides fertility preservation information and support services to cancer patients and oncology professionals,” she says.

With the severity of Jennifer’s case, the couple only had a brief opportunity for a single round of fertility preservation between her treatments. But, as luck would have it, they were thankful to learn they had received viable embryos from the single round, which were placed into cryo-storage. The couple was advised to wait at least three cancer-free years before using them to conceive.

Jennifer endured 16 months of chemotherapy, and as more time passed she inched closer to the three-year cancer-free mark.

Just a couple of years later, the silver lining to Jennifer and Darren’s cancer journey arrived—baby Xyla.

“I was 39 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and 43 when I had Xyla. In my husband’s words—we’re old new parents,” says Jennifer.

“But because of cancer, we were able to preserve a genetically younger embryo. We feel so blessed, and it sounds strange, but we have cancer to thank for it.”

Jennifer has been cancer-free since November 2015 and she and Darren are enjoying being new parents.

THE ROLE OF EXERCISE IN CANCER TREATMENT

During her treatment, Jennifer participated in a BC Cancer research program called the Nutrition & Exercise during Cancer Treatment Program (NExT), which focused on understanding the role of exercise and physical therapy to improve the side effects of cancer treatment and the health of cancer survivors.

Jennifer participated three times a week for almost a year. “The program was tremendously beneficial and acted as a forum for camaraderie and friendship with women who were going through similar treatments,” says Jennifer.

With donor support, the team hopes to launch Phase II with a 12-week program for participants, which would enable doctors to provide evidence-informed, supervised structured lifestyle programming to breast cancer and other cancer patients. To learn more, visit: www.nextprogram.ca

YOU CAN HELP TRANSFORM LIVES AND FAMILIES, LIKE JENNIFER’S

Please contact Becky Yost to learn more at 604.707.5926 or becky.yost@bccancer.bc.ca

Dr. Kim Chi, medical oncologist, medical director—clinical trials unit, BC Cancer

PROSTATE CANCER CLINICAL TRIALS: CHANGING THE STORY FOR MEN IN B.C.

There is an urgent need to find more effective therapies for men with advanced prostate cancer. We want to identify men whose cancers will have the best chance to respond.

Dr. Kim Chi

One in seven Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. Two recently-launched clinical trials at BC Cancer are aiming to reduce side effects and improve treatment options for men facing this common and deadly disease.

THE CTDNA TRIAL: LIQUID BIOPSIES REVEAL PROSTATE CANCER CLUES

A clinical trial has opened across Canada and is considered a major advancement in precision medicine for men facing prostate cancer.

Also the first of its kind in the world, the Prostate Cancer Biomarker Enrichment and Treatment Selection (PC-BETS) clinical trial, led by Dr. Kim Chi, medical oncologist at BC Cancer, and conducted by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, will screen people with advanced prostate cancer for genomic markers using liquid biopsies.

Standard protocol often requires a biopsy of a metastatic lesion to genetically profile a person’s cancer in order to understand what is driving the cancer to grow.

Liquid biopsies, performed via a simple blood test, offer a much less invasive but effective approach to do the same thing.

For the PC-BETS trial:

1. patients’ liquid biopsies will be analyzed; and

2. based on specific DNA markers in their blood, patients will be assigned to one of five new experimental targeted therapies.

Researchers want to see if the markers identified by the screening process can help predict which patients will be helped the most by the targeted treatments.

THE PRIME TRIAL: REDUCING TOXICITY AND SIDE EFFECTS

Men with prostate cancer receive androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), a standard first-line treatment that works by starving the cancer of the hormone testosterone which it needs to grow.

Although ADT has long been known to improve survival, it comes with serious side effects and can be toxic if used for a long time. One of the main side effects is metabolic syndrome, a cluster of multiple conditions including abdominal obesity, elevated blood-pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol.

As the patient’s time on ADT increases, so does his risk of metabolic syndrome and complications such as diabetes, strokes and heart attacks. A recent analysis suggests that prostate cancer patients have a 75% increased risk of metabolic syndrome, which often goes undetected until it appears on annual screening assessments.

In pursuit of a treatment that could lower the risk of complications, Medical Oncologist Dr. Bernie Eigl and his colleagues at BC Cancer have launched a new Phase III clinical trial called PRIME (Prevention and Intervention of Metabolic Syndrome).

The PRIME trial aims to prove that when given to men undergoing ADT treatment for advanced prostate cancer, metformin (a common, safe and inexpensive drug typically given to people with type 2 diabetes) can:

1. Reduce the rates of metabolic syndrome; and

2. Potentially improve prostate cancer outcomes.

This is the first and largest trial of its kind. “If metformin is proven to be effective in reducing the incidence or severity of metabolic syndrome, it would represent a cost-effective and relatively simple intervention that could rapidly become the standard of care,” says Dr. Eigl. “The wide utilization and proven safety of metformin would allow for its use to be expedited and if the anti-cancer effects of metformin are confirmed, these could also translate to improved prostate cancer outcomes.”

Dr. Brad Nelson, director and distinguished scientist, BC Cancer Deeley Research Centre

HIGH SCHOOL PROGRAM HELPS SHAPE FUTURE CANCER RESEARCHERS

“It was a life altering experience for me,” says Kayleigh Morris. “Working in the Deeley Research Centre towards a powerful goal of finding cures for cancer has been nothing short of inspiring.”

Like Kayleigh, more and more budding researchers across Vancouver Island are gaining crucial first-hand experience in the field of cancer research and care, thanks to The Xavier Pelletier High School Internship Program.

Through the program, students spend the summer between grades 11 and 12 at the Trev and Joyce Deeley Research Centre (DRC) at BC Cancer – Victoria, where they can explore cancer research from the front lines and learn about the latest techniques and tools being used today.

The eight-week summer internship runs from July – August each year. Since it began in 2004, 53 students have taken part in the program, which is funded by the BC Cancer Foundation.

Some students have returned to BC Cancer – Victoria as co-op, grad or medical students after completing the program and some even moved on to become professors or doctors.

Dr. Brad Nelson, director and distinguished scientist at the DRC, had the vision to create a program that would get high school students into the lab to spark their passion for science and medicine.

“As a scientist it’s exciting for me to see the ingenuity and dedication of these outstanding young members of our community,” says Dr. Nelson.

“I have no doubt the future of cancer research is in good hands thanks to everyone involved in this program, including the many donors who have provided bursaries for these students over the past 15 years.” Kayleigh, who is currently studying microbiology at the University of Victoria, says her experience with the internship program helped nurture her interest in pursuing a career in radiation therapy.

“Very rarely do high school students have the opportunity to conduct research and have summer employment of this kind,” she says.

“I also gained the experience of working in an environment at BC Cancer that focuses on both research and patient care.”

While taking part in the program, Kayleigh and a lab partner worked under lead researcher Katy Milne in the study of immunohistochemistry, testing that uses antibodies to test for certain antigens (markers) in a sample of tissue. She also took part in a book club where she studied material relevant to her research and presented her findings to the staff.

“Working in such an environment is intellectually challenging,” says Kayleigh. “It really helps young students see that their work can have a significant impact.”

HELP SUPPORT CANCER RESEARCH ON THE ISLAND

Contact Cynthia Durand-Smith to learn more at 250.519.5747 or cynthia.durand-smith@bccancer.bc.ca.

Dr. Poul Sorensen, distinguished scientist, BC Cancer

Gene discovery leads to new drug that targets 22 cancers

Twenty years in the making, a gene mutation in a rare pediatric cancer—discovered by Dr. Poul Sorensen’s lab in 1998—snowballed into a new drug that has now been approved and targets at least 22 types of cancer.

The discovery, made two decades ago, was driven by Dr. Sorensen’s work to distinguish congenital fibrosarcoma, a rare and deadly type of connective tissue tumour in very young children, from a benign lesion called fibromatosis that looked similar under the microscope.

“When you’re talking about a one-year-old kid, the stakes are so high. Surgery or chemotherapy for a one year old is a far more delicate and risky undertaking than it would be for an adult,” says Dr. Sorensen of his desire to find a clear way to distinguish the deadly cancer from its benign identical twin.

His work identified a gene-fusion that was driving the cancer. The publishing of this finding in Nature Genetics sparked researchers around the world to investigate the mutation known as ETV6-NTRK3. In 2002, Dr. Sorensen’s team proved this gene was also a driver in some breast cancers.

The discoveries kept coming as ETV6-NTRK3 was found in many other tumours, and then related mutations in other NTRK genes were identified in colorectal cancers, lung cancer, brain tumours, melanoma and other tumour types, leading to the creation of a new category of tumours—NTRK fusion cancers.

A cancer drug that targets a mutation in many cancers 

Loxo Oncology, a pharmaceutical company, began developing a drug to target the gene mutation in the mid-2000s and recently larotrectinib, licensed by Bayer Pharmaceuticals, was approved by the FDA, one of the first drugs to be classified based solely on a genetic driver.

In clinical trials leading up to the drug’s approval, it shrank tumours in 76 per cent of patients. Some saw their tumours vanish entirely while others saw their cancer stabilize.

The approval of larotrectinib represents a new approach to cancer drugs and their regulation—one drug that is intended and approved for a wide variety of cancers, with the common link being their genetic driver.

BC Cancer was the first in Canada to introduce genetic panel testing into routine cancer care, a practice that will help adopt genetic-targeted drugs into practice quickly. The genetic testing is critical in identifying which patients will benefit from such targeted therapies.

On the progress sparked by his discovery 20 years ago, Dr. Sorensen says: “What’s really gratifying to me is that it validates the idea of studying rare tumours in pediatrics. These rarer tumours are often less genetically complex, so it’s easier to discern the driving pathways, revealing fundamental processes of cancer growth. It’s gratifying that this time around, we were able to see the bigger picture.”

support pediatric cancer

To learn how you can help support pediatric cancer research, please contact Robyn Jones-Murrell at 604.707.5906 or robyn.jonesmurrell@bccancer.bc.ca

CENTRE SPOTLIGHT

Dr. Juanita Crook, radiation oncologist

RADIATION PROGRAM IN KELOWNA ACHIEVES NEW MILESTONES, CHANGES OUTCOMES

The radiation oncology team at BC Cancer – Kelowna is a national leader for a specialized type of radiation—high dose-rate (HDR) brachytherapy—that has changed the standard of care. This treatment is used for breast, prostate and gynecological cancers.

The term brachytherapy refers to the placement of radioactive “seeds” or “sources” inside or next to a tumour to deliver radiation directly to the tumour while sparing surrounding healthy tissue.

Some patients experience fewer side effects and brachytherapy is sometimes used instead of surgery. HDR (high dose-rate) brachytherapy treatment is very different from permanent seed implants and is more versatile and precise, where no radioactivity is left in the patient, but instead a very high intensity radioactive source is used to traverse the tumour under ultrasound guidance.

Thanks to critical donor funds, the radiation team at BC Cancer – Kelowna has a specific HDR brachytherapy operating facility, enabling them to see more patients and administer an increased number of low dose rate permanent seed brachytherapy implants, but also begin new programs and clinical trials.

With an aging population, the Okanagan will see an increase in cancer cases where continued donor support is crucial to expand this facility and grow capacity for more patients to access this type of specialized treatment.

BRACHYTHERAPY BREAKTHROUGH FOR BREAST CANCER

Seventy-five breast cancer patients in Kelowna are now cancerfree because of an innovative brachytherapy approach to treatment. Instead of external radiation, patients are treated with seed therapy internally, directed at the tumour to deliver treatment from the inside out.

This one-time treatment could save patients from having to travel for several subsequent treatments.

MILESTONES PROPEL FUTURE OF BRACHYTHERAPY FOR PROSTATE PATIENTS IN B.C.

“We’re making major strides in several areas of brachytherapy that will have a substantial impact on patient outcomes,” says Radiation Oncologist Dr. Juanita Crook.

She and her colleagues have made significant progress in four HDR brachytherapy projects this year:

1. 90 participants have been recruited to participate in a study comparing HDR brachytherapy to seed implant monotherapy, the use of a single modality to treat a disease or condition.

2. The team is nearing completion of a study comparing quality of life after HDR brachytherapy vs. low dose rate (LDR) seed boost for men with aggressive prostate cancer. Enrollment on this trial is expected to be complete within 12 months and preliminary results are encouraging.

3. Dr. Crook’s team is collaborating with Dr. Julian Lum of BC Cancer – Victoria’s Deeley Research Centre, where Dr. Lum is studying patient samples in the hope of creating optimal treatment schedules.

4. Dr. Crook’s team has also launched an HDR program for men whose tumours recur after radiation. This is the only program of its kind in the province.

Support brachytherapy for those in need in the Interior today.

To learn more, contact Pardeep Khrod at 1.250.878.5490 or pardeep.khrod@ bccancer.bc.ca.

YOUR IMPACT

Julia and Donald Leung

THE LAND OF OPPORTUNITY AND PHILANTHROPY

藉由此次的捐贈,我們希望能抛磚引 玉,鼓勵社區中的 善長踴躍捐輸,無 論金額多寡,都會 起重大的作用。

- Donald Leung
The Leung family donates $1.5M to lung cancer, thanks to hard work and passion to give back

Immigrants from Hong Kong, Donald and Julia Leung moved to Canada in the 1970s in pursuit of the Canadian dream. Never in their wildest thoughts did they expect to be able to give back to the community with a gift of $1.5 million to support lung cancer research and equipment needs at BC Cancer.

Working odd jobs throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Donald was a motivated young man willing to endure whatever it took to provide for his family in their newfound land of opportunity—Vancouver, British Columbia.

He spent his days working grueling jobs in factories and his evenings taking classes to further his education.

“I’ve always been keen to learn every day of my life. While I may have faced many challenges, I also was given many opportunities, and today, we’re fortunate to be able to give back,” says Donald.

Driven and ambitious with an innate entrepreneurial spirit, in 1993, Donald saw an opportunity to start his own business after spending 16 years working in a food processing company in Vancouver.

Twenty-five years later, Donald is the successful owner of Donald’s Fine Foods, a hog processing and meat wholesale company based in Richmond that exports quality meats to more than 25 countries and employs over 800 people across Canada.

Donald attributes his success to hard work and his dedicated wife Julia, and also prides himself on his passion to help others. Today, the family has set their sights on improving cancer outcomes through philanthropy. Like many British Columbians, the Leung family is no stranger to the disease.

The Leungs know first-hand how important research is in advancing treatment and care, and the positive impact it has on families.

“I always said to my family, we should try to help others and give back to our community,” says Donald.

The Leung’s gift of $1.5 million will propel lung cancer research with new equipment, as well as a chemo prevention program under Dr. Stephen Lam, Leon Judah Blackmore Chair in Lung Cancer Research and chair of the Provincial Lung Tumour Group, and director of the MDS-Rix Early Lung Cancer Detection and Translational Research Program at BC Cancer.

“We hope this gift will inspire others in the community to do their part to give back no matter how large or small the gift is. It all makes a difference,” says Donald.

Each week, Donald visits his processing plants in Richmond and Langley, bright and early. He and Julia are proud parents to Elaine and Allan, daughter-in-law Sherry and grandparents to grandchildren Rylan and Dylan.

Allan is the President and CEO of Donald’s Fine Foods and Elaine is a marine biologist and founder of a youth education environmental nonprofit called Sea Smart.

HELP CHANGE OUTCOMES

You can support revolutionary advances in care at BC Cancer. To learn more, please contact Katherine Pui 貝承桓 at 604.707.5912 or katherine.pui@bccancer.bc.ca  

HEALTHY INSIGHTS

Liam Fisher, MVMT Academy Founder and RYU Apparel Connector

SPRING INTO A NEW WORKOUT ROUTINE

With brighter days and warmer weather just around the corner, spring is the perfect time to jumpstart your fitness routine. Liam Fisher, MVMT Academy Founder and RYU Apparel Connector, has provided BREAKTHROUGH with seven daily workouts you can incorporate into your schedule to help you achieve your fitness goals.

TIP: The only gear you need is a resistance band and a medicine ball, or you can substitute items from around your house like a bungee cord and a heavy book.

MONDAY | Alternating front lunges (3 x 10 reps): Stand tall with your feet hip distance apart. Take a big step forward and lower your body toward the floor. Both legs should be bent at a 90-degree angle at the bottom of the lunge. Push off your front leg to rise and return back to the start. Then repeat these steps using your other leg.

TUESDAY | Medicine ball slams (3 x 10 reps): Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, knees slightly bent and hold the medicine ball over your head. Throw the ball to the ground with as much force as possible while exhaling and contracting your abs. As you drive the ball towards the floor follow the ball with your trunk, lowering your body as if performing a squat. Quickly pick the ball up, return to the starting position and repeat.

WEDNESDAY | Resistance band squats (3 x 10 reps): Stand on one or both sides of the resistance band (for extra difficulty) and grab the other ends in either hand. With your feet hip width apart, start to hinge from the hip, then bend your knees and keep your back straight as you lower yourself into a squat. When you are at a depth you are comfortable with, push up, extending your legs while pulling the band up. Once you return to standing, drop back down and repeat.

THURSDAY | Medicine ball deadlifts (3 x 10 reps): Place the medicine ball on the floor in front of you and stand with your feet shoulder width apart. Hinge from the hip, pushing your backside behind you and allowing your knees to bend slightly. You should feel tension in your hamstrings. The motion should differ from a squat, as you will not be bending the knees as much, but you’ll allow for more forward bend of the trunk from the hip. With a straight back, lower yourself until you can get both hands on the ball. Once you can grasp the ball, squeeze your glutes and hamstrings, pulling you back to the starting position, and then repeat.

FRIDAY | Crunches (3 x 15 reps): Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Place your hands behind your head and gently pull your abdominals inward. Curl upwards so your head, neck and shoulder blades lift off the floor. Hold your neck in a neutral position, so that you are not just crunching your head into your chest. Once off the floor, hold for a moment before lowering slowly back down.

SATURDAY | If you happen to be in North Vancouver, drop in for a sweaty signature class at MVMT Academy. If you can’t make it, get outside for a 20 minute walk or jog in the sunshine!

SUNDAY | Get out and play! Move with friends, kick a ball around, or play catch with the kids. Try to accumulate at least 20 minutes of physical activity today.

Challenge yourself this May with BC Cancer Foundation’s Workout to Conquer Cancer presented by RYU Apparel! Break a sweat for 31 days straight while fundraising in support of the latest cancer research and care.

Register here!