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“Our goal is to discover the key changes that distinguish the bad actors from the good actors,” says BC-based cancer expert.

This project has been completed

BC Cancer Agency investigator and TFRI-funded researcher Dr. Randy Gascoyne, research director at the BC Cancer Agency’s Centre for Lymphoid Cancer (CLC), talks about his work in lymphoma, the fourth most common cancer in both men and women.

There’s good news about the most common subtype of non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL), diffuse large B cell lymphoma, and then there’s bad news. The good news is about two-thirds of all patients are cured with current therapy, even when they are widely spread at diagnosis. The bad news is that in one-third of patients, the best treatment we have will fail to cure the patients. Lymphoid cancers in aggregate are the fourth most common cancer in both men and women.

Dr. Gascoyne leads a TFRI team that is investigating why some cases of lymphoma are so much more aggressive than others. “The obvious question, which is the main focus of our TFRI study, is: ‘ If we can cure 65 per cent or 70 per cent of (NHL lymphomas), what’s preventing us from curing the rest?’”

Dr. Gascoyne’s New Frontiers Program Project Team in Lymphoid Cancer is comparing the detailed genetic structure of responsive lymphomas to that of tumours that do not respond, or that continue to grow despite best therapy. “We are going to try and determine the genetic underpinnings that define those people whose primary therapy fails,” he says. His team will then compare its findings with the genetic make-up of patients experiencing a successful outcome which, he says, will tell us a great deal about the factors that underlie aggressive disease.

The BC Cancer Agency’s Tumour Tissue Repository has been a key factor in Dr. Gascoyne’s research, he says, enabling his team to draw from a huge sample size that is largely unmatched worldwide. “Because of this, we are arguably the leading lymphoma genomics center in the world. The collaboration between the CLC and the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Centre has been paramount to the success of the research. Successful clinical translational cancer research is completely dependent upon a large resource of tissue samples linked to patient records and a group of dedicated investigators working together to solve important problems. It’s an incredibly powerful resource that allows us to do this kind of work.”

Ongoing TFRI funding that Dr. Gascoyne’s team has received allows them to build on past research. “It has definitely allowed us to continue to build the database, to add to the biorepository and to ask the relevant questions regarding treatment failure in lymphoid cancers.” The answer, Dr. Gascoyne is sure, is a combination of genetic abnormalities.

“Cancers, including lymphoid cancers, are fundamentally genetic diseases. The cancer cells acquire changes in their genetic code, distinguishing them from normal cells. Our goal is to discover the key changes that distinguish the bad actors from the good actors so that the patients destined to not be cured using our current best treatment approaches, can be offered more precise, targeted therapies and an expectation of improved survival.”

The Terry Fox Foundation has partnered with the BC Cancer Foundation on the funding of this PPG. This marks the first time that a partner has co-funded a Terry Fox New Frontiers Program Project Grants since the flagship program was created over 30 years ago.