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The Centre for Lymphoid Cancer: Meaningful Changes for Patients in B.C.

January 23, 2015

As both a doctor and a scientist, I have a number of responsibilities at the BC Cancer Agency. On the clinical service side I see biopsies from patients with the full spectrum of lymphoid cancers, including both non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL) and Hodgkin lymphoma. I share these responsibilities with a small number of similarly dedicated lymphoma pathologists. We see virtually all cases in B.C. as well as large number of complex consults from across Canada. The group at the BC Cancer Agency is considered the premiere lymphoma pathology group in the country.

As the Research Director for the Centre for Lymphoid Cancer (CLC), I oversee all lymphoid cancer research activities. The CLC includes a mix of medical oncologists, lymphoma pathologists and scientists with a dedicated focus on lymphoid cancers. The CLC has three critical pieces of infrastructure that allow us to be successful:

  • a comprehensive electronic database,
  • a biorepository that houses residual material from clinical biopsy samples, and
  • a close collaboration with the Genome Sciences Centre that allows us to conduct cutting-edge genomic sequencing studies on patients from B.C. with lymphoid cancers.

These critical components foster clinical translational research (move science from the research bench to the patient’s bedside) and facilitate the development of novel targeted therapies.

The main focus of the Gascoyne laboratory is biomarker discovery, genomics and tumour-microenvironment interactions. Most cancers, including lymphoid cancers, co-exist with a number of non-cancerous cells as part of a local microenvironment. When we examine biopsies from NHL patients, we see both the cancer cells and non-cancerous immune cells that are distinct from the tumour cells. Together, they represent a rich microenvironment highly dependent on crosstalk between these immune cells and the cancer cells. We believe that a fundamental understanding of this crosstalk will allow us to discover the important features that promote growth of the cancer. Following these leads will help us to develop strategies to disrupt the crosstalk, eradicate the tumour and promote the long-term survival of our patients.

It can be reasonably argued that we “punch well above our weight class”. Although we are a relatively small centre, many of the novel observations and insights discovered by members of the CLC over the last 20-30 years have translated into meaningful changes to diagnosis, prognostic prediction and treatment and have been adopted by many centres around the world. Thus, the influence of the BC Cancer Agency’s CLC is far reaching and as a result, has successfully improved the lives of many lymphoma cancer patients, both here at home and elsewhere.