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Finding New Hope Through Clinical Trials

January 13, 2017

As a medical oncologist, I specialize in treating about five cancer types, and the main focus of my current research is in bladder cancer. I’d like to describe a couple of the clinical trials we have been involved in lately.

The first is a study comparing new immunotherapy treatments to our current standard of chemotherapy. Under normal circumstances our body’s immune system is constantly surveilling our cells and getting rid of damaged or mutated cells before they can cause trouble or become cancers. Therefore, when cancers grow in our bodies they must figure out a way to “hide” from the immune system. Immunotherapy medications act, in a way, to “uncloak” the cancer cells and make them visible to the immune system again in the hopes that the immune system can then wipe out the cancer. Immunotherapy is very exciting, and is proving to be another approach (along with the tried standards of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy) to treating cancer.

The large, international immunotherapy study now has more than 20 participants from all over B.C., making us the most active centre in North America for this specific study. There are many people (nurses, coordinators, pharmacists and more) who work tirelessly to make it possible for us to have these studies available in B.C., and I am honoured to be a part of that amazing team.

The other study involves delivering chemotherapy right into the cancer by linking it to an antibody that specifically sticks to a cancer cell. The analogy I sometimes use to describe this is a homing missile that destroys only the cancer rather than the traditional chemotherapy medications that kill growing cells indiscriminately (more like carpet-bombing). If this treatment works, the benefit would hopefully be the ability to deliver a dose of chemotherapy that is very toxic to the cancer while not causing as many of the side effects of traditional chemotherapy.

You may have read Chris’ story. He was afflicted with a very aggressive form of cancer and has had a really impressive response to this treatment so far.

Running clinical trials is hard work, but the results are felt by real people and this is what keeps me going. The research we do, the research you support, has real-world impacts that may start with small wins like Chris being able to play hockey with his son again, but won’t end until we have found a cure.