Supporting young women with breast cancer – Dr. May Lynn Quann, MD.

Dr. May Lynn Quan, MD, Photograph by Todd Korol

A breast cancer diagnosis is scary for anyone. But for women under the age of 40, breast cancer comes with a unique set of challenges: The potential loss of fertility, prolonged hormonal treatment and managing young families and careers during treatment. University of Calgary researcher and cancer surgeon Dr. May Lynn Quan, MD, is developing an online self-management tool (an app) to support the unique needs of these women.

 

Quan’s team interviewed 34 women diagnosed with breast cancer at age 40 or younger, who were at least one year from finishing active treatment. These women identified key elements they would want in an app, including one-on-one peer group support, age-specific sexual health and fertility information, and increased support when living beyond the end of treatment. 

 

Quan will take all the feedback to develop a supportive tool that she says is “by the women for the women.” This innovative app will be tested by a network of clinics across Canada when complete.

 

“When talking to these young women, we realized they need more support than they are getting,” says Quan. “Currently, their care is very fragmented – there’s a new patient clinic at one site, a surgical clinic at another and treatment at another,” says Quan. “The new Calgary Cancer Centre will bring all those services, that expertise, along with research, under one roof,” says Quan.

“To me, I think the biggest benefit of the cancer centre is that we will finally be in a comprehensive breast centre. Currently, breast cancer care is very fragmented – there’s a new patient clinic at one site, a surgical clinic at another and treatment at another. The new Calgary Cancer Centre will bring all those services, that expertise, along with research, under one roof and to capitalize (or leverage) on the proximity and necessary collaboration and coordination of services in a more organic way. “

 

“Right now, women are literally driving all over the city to get the care they need. It will make it easier for a natural marriage between our research efforts and bringing those into clinical reality. Actually implementing it and building these support tools with the patient in a collaborative way,” says Quan. 

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

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Data is power – Dr. Winson Cheung, MD, researcher and oncologist, believes that big data can be used to gather health information more efficiently

Dr. Winson Cheung, Medical Oncologist and Provincial Director of Cancer Health Services Research. Photograph by Jared Sych.

Vast amounts of health information are collected across Alberta. This information, called ‘big data,’ is stored in massive databases and includes diverse, de-identified information about many people. A UCalgary team is using this big data to mimic clinical trials.

Randomized control trials (RCTs) are the gold standard to evaluate a new cancer drug or treatment. In RCTs, participants are randomly assigned to one therapy or another to compare effectiveness. While very valuable, RCTs can be expensive and last decades, and only represent less than 10 per cent of the population.

Dr. Winson Cheung, MD, a UCalgary researcher and oncologist, believes that big data can be used to gather health information more efficiently and on more patients than RCTs.

Using several Alberta administrative databases and the analytical expertise to interpret them, Cheung’s team hopes to provide real-world evidence to support better clinical decision-making. “The global pandemic over the past two years has taught us that data is power,” says Cheung. “Data and lessons learned from current patients can inform, model, and predict how we can improve the care of future patients.”

The new, world-class Calgary Cancer Centre will have hundreds of workspaces dedicated to data sciences. “Data scientists will be able to work side-by-side at the new cancer centre, making it easier to leverage and translate data to improve the lives of cancer patients and their families.”

At the new Calgary Cancer Centre, we’re bringing together researchers, medical teams, prevention experts, patients and families in ways never before possible.

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

You can help clinicians and researchers like Amanda perform world-class cancer research by making a donation to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

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Taking control of blood cancer

Multiple myeloma is a type of blood cancer that often evades treatment. UCalgary scientist and medical oncologist Dr. Paola Neri, MD, PhD, is studying the genetic code of multiple myeloma to determine why it is resistant to many current drugs, hoping to find new, better treatments for fighting the disease. 

Neri has created a tissue bank that consists of bone marrow biopsies from myeloma patients. Information from these tissue samples led to a clinical trial combining two medications to treat relapsed myeloma patients. Her groundbreaking work has led to a better understanding of DNA repair defects in tumour cells. 

Neri was recently awarded the Kenneth Anderson Young Investigator Award for her commitment to bringing basic research to the bedside. A mentee of Dr. Anderson, Neri was inspired by his dedication to research and patient care. “From Dr. Anderson, I learned the impact that basic research may have on a patient’s life.”

The new Calgary Cancer Centre will make it easier for Neri to take her research to the next level and provide world-class services for cancer patients. “To me, OWN. CANCER means taking control of your cancer, knowing that all the people involved with you in this complex journey are committed to improving clinical care through dedication to research and high standard medical practice.”

Cancer, aging and DNA

The cells in our bodies rely on the stability of our DNA to survive in a healthy state. When something goes wrong with our DNA, cells are compromised. Usually, the cell will repair itself, but if DNA repair is unsuccessful, this can lead to tissue and organ damage, and sometimes, cancer. 

UCalgary researcher Dr. Aditya Mojumdar, PhD, studies the factors that maintain DNA stability during repair. He has discovered that DNA repair switches from error-free to error-prone as cells age, leading to more mutations. This finding may explain why cancer occurs with age.

Dr. David Schriemer, PhD, and Susan Lees-Miller, PhD, UCalgary researchers in the Robson DNA Science Centre, assembled a team of scientists from Alberta and British Columbia to look at DNA repair and aging using cutting-edge molecular imaging approaches. They are currently seeking funding for a multi-year project that would be the first of its kind in Canada, bringing new state-of-the-art equipment to the Calgary Cancer Centre. 

“Every life-scientist dreams of making a difference in societal health with their research. The new collaborative Calgary Cancer Centre is paving the way for that dream to come true,” says Mojumdar. 

Developing vaccines against childhood cancers – Dr. Aru Narendran

Vaccines have effectively treated and even eradicated, some of the most devastating infectious diseases. Not only can vaccines protect us from viruses and other pathogens, but they can also train the immune system to recognize and destroy tumour cells.

Based on research showing the effectiveness of anticancer vaccines against some adult tumours, pediatric oncologist Dr. Aru Narendran, MD, PhD is developing a vaccine for high-risk, difficult-to-treat cancers in children.

Malignant cells can make unique mutant proteins, called neoantigens, that aren’t found in normal healthy cells. Narendran’s lab gathers and analyzes data from tumours and normal samples of high-risk pediatric patients to identify candidate neoantigens. Once they have this information, they can develop and test effective anticancer vaccines for children with difficult-to-cure brain tumours, leukemias, and sarcomas.

The new Calgary Cancer Centre will significantly boost Narendran’s work by attracting new talent, providing access to critical study specimens and technology, and encouraging more collaborations between adult and pediatric oncologists. “This will help tremendously with important knowledge exchange and learning from each other more effectively.”

Narendran currently holds the Kids Cancer Care Chair in Clinical and Translational Research in Pediatric Oncology. His goal is to transform the treatment of childhood cancers in the future. “For me, OWN.CANCER simply means that we never have to tell a parent that there is nothing more that we can do to help their child with cancer. Ever.”

 

Click here to learn about the five critical areas in which we aim to tackle cancer.

You can help clinicians and researchers like Amanda perform world-class cancer research by making a donation to the OWN.CANCER campaign today.

Click here to Donate.

 

More than a job

Cory Knutson is a project manager with PCL Construction, the company responsible for the construction of the new Calgary Cancer Centre. “I get to see the building come alive a little more each day.  I get great satisfaction from seeing my ideas and direction transformed into physical installations inside the building,” he says.

The construction is more than a job to Knutson, however. His father lost his battle with cancer in May 2020 after a five-year struggle.

Since then, Knutson has had time to reflect on his father’s care.  “The AHS staff were so supportive through all the chemo rounds, ambulance rides, the many research sessions to locate potential treatment options, and the end-of-life home care,” he says.

“I know my efforts will help make this the best possible building for AHS staff to offer quality care for patients like my father.”

“I know what a difference this building will make to those who have yet to start their own cancer journey.”

The Calgary Cancer Centre is set to open in 2023.

 

As originally published on Alberta Health Services