The need is obvious and urgent. While the incidence rates of most common cancers are dropping, lymphoid cancer rates – including Hodgkin and non-Hodgkin lymphoma – have doubled every 20 years for the past seven decades. They are now the fourth most common cancers in North America, affecting men and women, young and old, equally.
Because Canadians have a one in 30 chance of developing a lymphoid cancer in their lifetime, more than 1,000 British Columbians will be diagnosed every year. And in half those cases, existing therapies don’t work.
Fortunately, our provincial cancer control organization – the BC Cancer Agency – has the largest lymphoma research program in Canada, in its Centre for Lymphoid Cancer. The entire focus of the program is to develop and improve lymphoma diagnosis and treatment.
The Centre and its co-directors, Drs. Joseph Connors and Randy Gascoyne, are internationally-recognized leaders in the field. Their many research discoveries and treatment advances have been published in top scientific journals; a recent discovery was heralded by a foremost lymphoma expert in the New England Journal of Medicine as “the breakthrough we have been waiting 20 years for.”
Now Drs. Connors and Gascoyne are embarking on their most ambitious research yet. They call it the ANGELYC Project – the Analysis of Genomes to Eliminate Lymphoid Cancers. It will be a comprehensive examination of the basic biology of all lymphomas.
At its core is a unique biological bank of thousands of patients’ lymphoma cells that the Centre has built up over the years, as well as a detailed database of patient treatment and outcomes. There are few other resources like this anywhere in the world.
Their plan is to decode the entire genome – all of the DNA – of the banked cancer cells. The next-generation computer technology available through the Agency‘s renowned Genome Sciences Centre makes this astronomic feat possible at a speed and affordability that was unthinkable just a few years ago.
When they compare the normal cells to the malignant ones, the unique genetic mutations of each cancer cell will be revealed. They will also be able to see any common, “driver” mutations that might be present across multiple cell samples. These mutations are the potential bulls-eye targets at which new treatments can be aimed.
Not only will the ANGELYC Project be the first of its kind in the world, it may well change the course of lymphoid cancer research.
It could potentially slow or even stop the acceleration of the disease and provide answers for those 50 per cent of patients who lack curative treatments. It could extend, if not save, the lives of all British Columbians diagnosed with lymphoma.
We are fortunate not only to have skilled scientists dedicated to cancer research on our collective behalf, but also to have the research, treatment and technology all focused together within one cancer control organization, right here in our own backyard.
And of course, to have far-sighted and generous donors who are inspired by the BC Cancer Foundation‘s vision of a world free from cancer.
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