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The Future of Genomics: Personalized medicine

It really is a very exciting time to work at the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre (GSC). We are working with many other research teams, both at the Agency and around the world, to help better understand cancer and to use this advanced knowledge to succeed in treating cancer cells. In the last 18 months, there have been a number of world-class genome science breakthroughs at the BC Cancer Agency in breast, ovarian and lymphoid cancers — and the GSC has been involved in all of them. In these studies, many new genes with “spelling mistakes” (mutations) in them have been identified. We...

How technology is helping genomics

As I mentioned in my last post, the amount of DNA in your body is astounding, as is the number of cells, which has been estimated at 100 trillion When I started in genomics, searching for cancer-causing mutations was a huge and expensive endeavor, and simply could not be done comprehensively. The tools to understand the structure and function of cancer cell genomes simply did not exist. All of that has drastically changed thanks to advances in technology. So called “next-generation” DNA sequencing has dramatically changed the rate and cost of doing DNA sequencing for cancer mutation detection...

What is genomics?

Since genomics can seem complicated, let’s start with the basics so that you understand a bit better what my team does. Many people are aware that the cells of living organisms contain DNA that encodes the information that their cells need to grow and divide normally. The term genome refers to the DNA within the cells. Although most of the genome is similar between individuals, there are also a lot of differences. For instance, the copy of the genome that we inherited from Mom is different than the copy of the genome that we inherited from Dad. Genomics refers to a collection of special tools...

Meet Dr. Marco Marra

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...

Introducing January's Guest Blogger

It is my pleasure to introduce January’s guest blogger Dr. Marco Marra, head of the BC Cancer Agency’s Genome Sciences Centre (GSC) . If you've been following along the past few months, you already know that the GSC is central to the research taking place at the BC Cancer Agency. Most Agency research groups collaborate with Marco, and the GSC has been a part of nearly every major research breakthrough announced at the BC Cancer Agency in the last two years. I'm sure that Marco’s posts will provide you with interesting information on how unique his team is. Warm regards, Doug

Why do clinical trials require/deserve funding?

When thinking about what I wanted to write in today’s post, I knew I first wanted to say thank you to George and Margaret Braun and their family for giving generously to the BC Cancer Foundation . Their gift provided substantial funding for the Clinical Trials Unit in Abbotsford that now bears their name. Without the Brauns, there would not be clinical trials in Abbotsford. Period. Along those lines, I should also thank the 20 riders of the Wheel Warriors’ team who raised $50,000 for clinical trials in Abbotsford last year in the Ride to Conquer Cancer . Funding for clinical trials is very...

B.C.’s cancer survival rates stand out

I’m pleased to be today’s special guest blogger and to share with you our excitement about a study that highlights the quality of cancer care in British Columbia and the role that research plays in it. The study, published today in the prestigious international journal The Lancet , compares outcomes for breast, ovarian, lung, and colorectal cancer among Canada, Australia, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom over the period from 1995–2007. These six nations were chosen because of their similar wealth and systems of universal health care. Here is a summary of some of the results: -...

About Clinical Trials

I wanted to start by speaking a bit about the Clinical Trials Unit at the Abbotsford Centre. “Clinical trials” is a term that encompasses a lot of different research questions and goals. The National Institute of Health (NIH) has a definition ( here it is), but for ease, I think of clinical trials as being any research experiment being conducted on human patients. In our context, these include specific questions such as, “Is chemotherapy X better than chemotherapy Y ?” and peripheral questions such as, “Does herb X reduce nausea better than drug Y ?” or, “Is a PET/CT scan helpful prior to...

Meet Dr. Devin Schellenberg

As Doug explained, I am a radiation oncologist at the BC Cancer Agency’s Fraser Valley and Abbotsford Centres. A radiation oncologist treats cancer mostly by using high energy, extremely focused X-ray beams, though internal radiation (in the form of prostate brachytherapy seeds or gynecologic implants) may also be used. Physicians choose to use radiation, chemotherapy or surgery (or a combination) depending on the type of cancer, its stage (that is, how far the disease has spread) and the wellness of the patient. Radiation is used as treatment for almost all types of cancer though not every...

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