Working at the BC Genome Sciences Centre a decade ago, Dr. Ryan Morin didn’t intend to become a cancer researcher. Yet today, following the path he began as a graduate student, he is using his expertise in bioinformatics to determine how non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL) become resistant to drug treatments.
Non-Hodgkin lymphomas (NHL) are the fifth most common cancer affecting Canadians. Dr. Morin’s ultimate goal is to identify new targets for more effective drugs to kill these tumours.
“Our first aim is to look at aggressive lymphomas and ask how they evolve over time,” says Dr. Morin, now based at Simon Fraser University. “Then we want to determine where we might be able to target new drugs at tumour cells to kill them.”
The team will also use “liquid biopsy” methods to detect genetic changes in tumours without using traditional, invasive biopsy procedures. Liquid biopsies use a simple blood test to determine the level of tumour DNA in a patient’s blood.
“Blood tests are not fun, but they are a lot easier than a biopsy,” says Dr. Morin. “This is potentially a new way to monitor the progression of the disease overall to see whether the tumour is changing into a more aggressive form of cancer.”
Dr. Randy Gascoyne at the BC Cancer Agency is mentoring Dr. Morin. “Ryan’s interest in circulating-tumour DNA as a biomarker for monitoring NHL progression and evolution is timely and, in my opinion, very promising.”
“This award is really important for the labs of people like myself, who are new players in a big pool of high-quality researchers,” remarks Dr. Morin. “It really helps us get started, make headway, and get a research program going. It’s really exciting!”