The support of the BC Cancer Foundation and, by extension its generous donors, have been instrumental in our research successes to date.
An example is our work on liquid biopsies for men with advanced prostate cancer. For these men, understanding the genetic profile of their cancer is important to try and develop personalized or precision medicine strategies, where we tailor treatment to a particular patient and the individual make-up of their cancer.
This is usually done with a biopsy, but for men with advanced prostate cancer where the cancer typically metastasizes to the bone, this is especially difficult to sample for patients and technically difficult as we often don’t get enough cancer cells to analyze from such biopsies.
We know that cancers can shed some of their genetic material (DNA) into blood. So in 2013, with a generous $50,000 gift from the BC Cancer Foundation, we started collecting blood from men with advanced prostate cancer and isolating out the cancer derived DNA from the plasma.
What we found was that we could use this DNA to understand the genetic make-up of a patient’s cancer, and that it could be used to predict what happens with therapy. We published that research in 2015 and it was the most cited article in Clinical Cancer Research that year.
Since then we have leveraged that preliminary data into several millions of dollars in grants and contracts to support our research so we can continue to refine our assays and develop bigger projects.
We have now analyzed hundreds of patients, and developed a trial that I lead across Canada where men with advanced prostate cancer have a liquid biopsy and receive experimental therapy tailored specifically towards any genetic mutations or alterations we find.
Another result of this liquid biopsy research has been that we have found out more about the hereditary causes of prostate cancer. Whereas before we thought this affected only 1-2 per cent of men, from our research as well as others, we now know that over 10 per cent of men with advanced prostate cancer have a genetic predisposition to developing aggressive prostate cancer.
This has implications for the patients themselves in terms of their treatment, but it also has implications for their family members as they too could carry a gene that predisposes them not only to prostate cancer, but also to other cancers such as breast and ovarian.
Men with advanced prostate cancer who are undergoing treatment at one of our six treatment centres are eligible to participate in this liquid biopsy research study.
This is made possible thanks to generous support from donors to the BC Cancer Foundation.
I’m also doing my part to help raise money for the BC Cancer Foundation by participating in The British Columbia Ride to Conquer Cancer – the largest fundraiser for cancer research in the province. I’ve done it every year since it started nine years ago and it’s something I look forward to every year.
I love riding my bike, but witnessing first-hand how the event brings together people from all walks of life, and hearing their stories as to why they are there and how they have been touched by cancer, is incredibly inspiring as an oncologist and researcher.
The hard part, raising money, is done. The ride is like a celebration and an opportunity to personally thank everyone who contributed.
Thanks for reading,
Dr. Kim Chi