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Meet Dr. Marco Marra

January 14, 2011

Hello readers!  My name is Marco and I’m the Director of the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre.

I’ll explain a bit more about genomics in a future posting.  But I thought I’d start with a bit of information about our program, how it came to be, and why it’s unique.

Around 1997, Dr. Victor Ling, then Vice-President of Research at the BC Cancer Agency, working with Nobel laureate Dr. Michael Smith, saw the potential of DNA analysis (genomics) to unlock new information about diseases and in particular cancers.  The human genome hadn’t even been fully decoded yet, but Drs. Ling and Smith had the vision to see the potential that this knowledge held.

BC Cancer Foundation donors believed in this vision, and the Foundation was able to invest $25 million to establish what eventually became the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre at the BC Cancer Agency.

The Genome Sciences Centre – or just the GSC as we like to call it – is now one of the top handful of cancer genomics centres in the world.

The GSC has a unique perspective because we are embedded in a provincial cancer treatment program.  While we sometimes look at other diseases and occasionally even other organisms, we are primarily interested in cancer research.

People sometimes ask me, “Marco, you could be studying anything in the world – why cancer?”

The answer to this is straight-forward.  I’m a type one diabetic.  But I’m lucky – my disease, while chronic, is manageable.  I monitor my blood glucose levels and inject insulin when necessary, and I’m good to go.  While I find diabetes to be plenty challenging, I can self-manage my disease, and live a near-normal life.

But this is not the situation that a huge number of cancer patients experience.  Those of us working in research have to find new ways to allow cancer patients to manage their disease, and to live normal lives.