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The Breast Cancer Society of Canada

Research saves lives!
Breast Cancer Ribbon

Marc Guay – What’s my Breast Cancer Story?

posted by:
Neil W

Marc GuayMarc Guay sits on the Breast Cancer Society of Canada board of directors, we recently asked him what his cancer story is. This is the story he told us, this is Marc Guay’s cancer story.

It never really occurred to me that it would happen. And happen. And happen.

The first time was twelve years ago when I lost my beautiful sister-in-law, Kim. She was 38 at the time and the shock sent ripples of absolute devastation through our family.

Soon after, I lost my dear friend and colleague, Teri, to the disease as well. She was also 38—an equally devastating tragedy. And if that wasn’t enough—both my mother and another close colleague, Anne-Marie, were both diagnosed and are survivors of breast cancer—an absolute blessing. And it was these two positive outcomes that made me realize that there is hope and that there is a lot I can do to help.

Today, you will not likely find a single person who hasn’t been touched by the disease. In fact, in Canada, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death and one in 30 Canadian women will unfortunately die from it—startling statistics wouldn’t you agree?

It is for this reason that my family’s mission is to actively support, raise awareness for and donate time and money to help fight it. Advances in medicine today are improving survival rates dramatically, and I strongly believe that both Kim and Teri would still be with us today if science, then, was what it is today. If we can save one mother, one wife, one daughter, sister, family member, friend and colleague, then it’s a fight worth pursuing.

Throughout my career, I have been in positions where I’ve engaged people in initiatives, projects and programs, developed to further the business objectives of my organization. I then decided that I wanted to use those skills to do the same for important causes, such as breast cancer. Having been touched by the disease so many times, I have and continue to be actively involved in the cause—taking part in Walk for Breast Cancer among other things—as well as being actively involved in raising funds to further breast cancer research.

Marc and Kim dancing on the dock at the cottage before she succumbed to the breast cancer.

Marc and Kim dancing on the dock
at the cottage before she succumbed
to the breast cancer.

Today—a retired business executive—I am dedicating a large portion of my time to breast
cancer research, which is why I am now serving on the Breast Cancer Society of Canada board of directors and am chairing its Fund Development Committee. Joining BCSC is very important as it allows me to make a difference and, of course, honour Kim and Teri—whose lives were taken too soon. Simply, breast cancer steals lives and I want that to end.

There is hope. And we can do this. Let’s work together to make it happen.

Like Marc Guay start making a difference today give to life-saving breast research. Learn more about ways you can give on bcsc.ca/donate

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Uncovering the role of RNA in breast cancer

posted by:
Neil W

My name is Thomas Huynh and I’m a Masters student in Dr. Paola Marcato’s laboratory in the Department of Pathology at Dalhousie University. The support generously provided to me by the Breast Cancer Society of Canada and the QEII foundation through the Beatrice Hunter Cancer Research Institute has been invaluable in helping me pursue my research goals.

Thomas Huynh BCSC ResearcherWorking with Dejan Vidovic, a fellow graduate student in Dr. Marcato’s laboratory, our work focuses on uncovering the role of a long non-coding RNA (lncRNA) discovered by Dejan in breast cancer disease. Previously dismissed as “genomic junk”, evidence is emerging that lncRNAs play a pivotal role in the development, progression and pathology of breast cancer. Our work shows that the lncRNA RAINR has an oncogenic role in breast cancer. Employing a variety of molecular technologies, we observed that knocking down expression of RAINR dramatically increases the apoptosis of breast cancer cells and decreases their proliferation, indicating its importance in disease development. We are now working towards characterizing the mechanisms behind RAINR function. This could potentially uncover a new therapeutic target for the treatment of breast cancer.

I am extremely grateful for the support provided to me for this project, as well as other opportunities to expand my graduate experience. I was afforded the opportunity to attend an international cancer conference in Florence, Italy to share my work with other high caliber researchers and was recently awarded the inaugural CRTP Collaboration Grant to start a new project studying the treatment of a subtype of leukemia in collaboration with Dr. Ian Weaver’s research group at Dalhousie University.

Thank you once again BCSC as well as the BHCRI and the QEII Foundation for your ongoing support,

Thomas Huynh

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3D Surface Imaging Technique for Breast Cancer

posted by:
Neil W

My name is Olivia Tong and I am a MESc candidate in the Department of Biomedical Engineering under Drs. Jeffrey Carson and Mamadou Diop at Lawson Health Research Institute.

BCSC Researcher - Olivia Tong - 3D Surface Imaging Technique for Breast CancerWe are developing a non-contact scanner that can monitor the blood oxygen level in the tumor during chemotherapy. The success of this project will lead to a new diagnostic method that can quickly identify the most effective chemotherapy drug for each breast cancer patient. You might have seen Lawrence Yip’s blog posts regarding Photoacoustic Imaging Research. For this scanner, we also use photoacoustic imaging to detect breast tumors. As an improvement, we are building a non-contact system. I am working on a component of this non-contact scanner that captures the 3D shape of the breast using 3D surface imaging technique. The 3D information of the breast is important for reconstructing the photoacoustic images collected by the other component of the scanner.

The support of TBCRU enabled me to purchase a commercial structured light scanner for the development of my system. My next step is to evaluate the performance of my system on a small group of human subjects before integrating my component into the non-contact scanner. For this project, we also collaborate closely with clinicians at the breast cancer center at St. Joseph’s Hospital and researchers at McMaster University.

This May, I have the opportunity to meet with our collaborators and learn more about biomedical optics. I am very grateful to be supported by TBCRU and work for this amazing project.

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Personalized radiation from the inside-out

posted by:
Neil W

My name is Justin Michael and I’m an MESc candidate studying in the Department of Biomedical Engineering under Dr. Aaron Fenster in the Robarts Research Institute.

Just weeks after Canada’s 150th birthday, complete with fireworks and concerts, I travelled to our nation’s capital to present at a scientific conference on a distinctly Canadian project. I presented technology to improve the accuracy of a relatively new breast cancer treatment. Pioneered at Toronto’s Sunnybrook hospital, the treatment implants radioactive “seeds” in the patient’s breast, delivering personalized radiation from the inside-out in a single visit. It replaces the weeks-long standard approach of delivering radiation from the outside-in, reducing the burden of treatment to the patient. Using ultrasound imaging and simple robotics, we’ve developed tools to help doctors implant the seeds more easily and more accurately.

Justin Michael

From left to right: Justin Michael, TBCRU graduate student; Luc Beaulieu, Professor – Laval University; Aaron Fenster, Imaging Scientist & TBCRU Supervisor – Western University; Deidre Batchelar, Medical Physicist & Adjunct Professor – University of British Columbia Okanogan

Working under Dr. Aaron Fenster in London’s Robarts Research Institute, we’ve collaborated closely with clinicians and researchers at the cancer center in Kelowna, BC. Their center serves patients from throughout the BC interior, some of whom travel up to 350 km for treatment, making shorter radiation especially important. In addition to partnering with researchers in Canada’s West, the research builds on previous technology developed with physicists at Quebec’s Laval University in Canada’s East.

In Ottawa, I showed the tools we’ve built are nearly ready. Our next step is testing on surgical simulators developed at the University of Calgary before moving into clinical trials.

Through research touching four provinces and three time-zones, we’re working to improve options for patients battling breast cancer. Though the Canada Day fireworks have come and gone, researchers in London and across the country still have plenty to celebrate.

Thank you to the BCSC for their support.

Justin Michael, MESc Candidate

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Miss Teenage Toronto supports BCSC

posted by:
Neil W

Miss Teenage Toronto 2017 (Alexia Antonio) has been very active this July, volunteering and running fundraising events across Toronto in support of a number of different charities, including ours! Alexia will be hosting a number of tables in the Bay Adelaide Centre concourse, on July 25, 26 and 27, between 9am and 5pm. She will be located across the Second Cup in the PATH concourse for the centre.

Alexia Antonio BCSC FundraiserAlexia has prepared dozens of gift baskets to help support her fundraising efforts. With every donation of $5, $10 and $20, donors are eligible for different types of gift bags with various beauty products enclosed – 100% of all proceeds will go the Breast Cancer Society Of Canada, funding life-saving breast cancer research.

We are looking forward to hearing more about Alexia BCSC fundraising event from her directly, when we interview her about her experience fundraising for us and fund out why she has chosen the Breast Cancer Society of Canada as one of her charities of choice.

More about Miss Teenage Toronto 2017,
Alexia is a kind and an open-minded young woman who is determined to achieve her life goals while making positive contributions in the world. Alexia currently hold the title of Miss Teenage Toronto and strongly supports women’s needs and the empowerment and equality for all women. Alexia aims to spread the message of courage, strength and confidence through her Beauty Inside campaign. Alexia is currently attending York University and her hobbies include swimming, reading and performing in Shakespearean plays. Alexia has a passion for fencing and is currently on the York University fencing team and dreams of competing in the Olympics.

Follow Alexia during her fundraising event for BCSC on
Facebook,  Instagram and her blog for all the up to the moment fun details over the next three days as she supports funding life-saving breast cancer research.  Because #ResearchMatters

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Finding a Novel Strategy to Prevent Metastasis

posted by:
Neil W

“What my patients with early stage breast cancer really fear is to hear the word ‘metastasis’.” Most oncologists would agree with this statement, which I once heard from a presenter at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium.  There is no doubt that being told you have metastatic breast cancer is a lot to take in, as it means that breast cancer has spread beyond the breast to other parts in the body. The disease becomes more advanced the farther it spreads. And, unfortunately, it also becomes incurable.

How can the appearance of metastases be prevented? One of the ways to address this issue – and probably the most promising – originates from the field of molecular biology and biochemistry.

Dr. Jean-François Côté, Director of the Cancer and Genetic Diseases Division in MontrealDr. Jean-François Côté Clinical Research Institute (IRCM), explores the molecular signals that allow cancer cells to seed and grow new tumors, and how to stop this spread. Along with his research team, he looks at signalling pathways that control cell migration. One of the team’s current projects focuses on breast cancer. Recently, Dr. Côté visited the Cancer Research Institute at Queen’s University and shared details of this research during a seminar titled “Unravelling the complexity of metastasis: Characterizing the roles of the receptor tyrosine kinase AXL in metastatic progression.”

What is the research agenda of Dr. Côté’s team? Statistics indicate that the majority of breast cancer deaths occur because of the manifestation of metastases. The metastatic process is complex: cancer cells detach from a primary tumour, enter nearby blood vessels, and migrate in the vascular system. Throughout this process, cancer cells exchange signals, and such signaling pathways drive tumor progression and metastasis after cancer cells reach and survive at secondary sites.

In a nutshell, AXL is a cell surface receptor. As Dr. Côté explains, the expression of AXL correlates with the appearance of metastases in several types of cancers, including breast cancer. AXL stimulates cell proliferation promoting cell survival, resistance, invasion, and metastasis. In other words, signals from AXL help malignant cells grow and spread to distant areas in the body.

A snapshot of AXL cooperating with HER2 in human breast cancer samples

A snapshot of AXL cooperating with HER2 in human breast cancer samples

The mechanism AXL uses to perform its pro-metastatic role is still not completely clear. To identify signaling networks controlled by AXL, Dr. Côté borrowed proteomics approaches – protein-based analysis methods that help estimate the relative and absolute amounts of thousands of proteins across diverse biological systems. Proteomic technologies are in high demand in cancer studies as they have the potential to lead to the discovery of new therapeutic targets and improve the precision of anti-cancer treatments.

What unites researchers in the cancer field all over the world is the understanding that a “one-size-fits-all” strategy for treating cancer no longer works. We live in the era of a tailor-made individualised approach. Searching for ways to personalize breast cancer treatment is considered the most promising way forward for leading cancer researchers. As researchers such as Dr. Côté and his team learn more about the molecular mechanisms controlling signaling by the receptor tyrosine kinase AXL, they are better able to move forward and identify some pharmacologic targets for treating breast cancer. The next major step will be designing novel anti-cancer therapies that will work better than conventional untargeted chemotherapy. “Old-school” chemotherapy kills without distinction. Targeted drugs attack breast cancer without harming benign cells.

Dr. Côté also employs in vivo approaches. In vivo (Latin for “within the living”) means that an investigator uses a whole, living organism in research. Regarding cancer studies, in vivo testing involves mouse models and human patient-derived xenografts. In the case of xenografts, human tumor cells are transplanted into a mouse. This allows the design of a model with the same biological parameters as an actual cancer patient. Obviously, this is a perfect way to observe the overall effect of an experiment using a living subject, while not harming people.

Much has been achieved in research and much more remains to be done, as Dr. Côté says. To date, findings indicate that the receptor tyrosine kinase AXL is a promising therapeutic target for breast cancer therapy. “Our results suggest that inhibition of AXL would be beneficial in limiting the spread of breast cancer,” argues Dr. Côté.

Natalia Mukhina –
Health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate

 

Natalia Mukhina - Health Journalist

Natalia Mukhina, MA in Health Studies, is a health journalist, reporter and cancer research advocate with a special focus on breast cancer. She is blogging on the up-to-date diagnostic and treatment opportunities, pharmaceutical developments, clinical trials, research methods, and medical advancements in breast cancer. Natalia participated in numerous breast cancer conferences including 18th Patient Advocate Program at 38th San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. She is a member of The Association of Health Care Journalists (AHCJ).

 

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Finding cancer: Improving x-ray detector technology for earlier detection of breast cancer

posted by:
Neil W

Hello! I’m Tomi Nano, a PhD candidate in the department of Medical Biophysics at Western University. I work at Robarts Research Institute in Dr. Ian Cunningham’s lab on development of new x-ray detector designs and measurements of their performance.

Tomi Nano, a PhD candidate in the department of Medical Biophysics at Western UniversityThe Pamela Greenaway- Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Unit (TBCRU) Traineeship Program has supported my research in improving detector technology performance for earlier detection of breast cancer. Women who enrol in mammography screenings have up to 40% reduced risk of death from breast cancer, but since mammograms require exposure to radiation, detectors should produce high-quality images with the least amount of radiation so as to minimize the risk to patients. The aim of my research project is to develop an “ideal” x-ray detector which produces the highest-quality images with little radiation.

Improvements in image signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) are known to improve breast cancer detection. During my traineeship, our lab has developed a detector design that produces images with higher SNR of small features and fine detail which are important for early detection of breast cancer. Better visualization of fine detail in mammograms should help radiologists more accurately identify cancer. To further understand the clinical process of breast cancer screening, I have begun an observership at St. Joseph’s Hospital with Dr. Anat Kornecki. Our goal is to apply our new technological advancements to address the needs clinicians have for detecting breast cancer earlier.Tomi Nano

The support from TBCRU enabled me to share my discoveries with other scientists and clinicians at the 2017 Mammography Workshop and Imaging Winter School conference organized by the Canadian Organization of Medical Physicists (COMP). In addition to discussing my translational breast cancer research with physicists, radiologists and technologists, this meeting provided an opportunity to establish future collaboration with leading Canadian scientists, such as Martin Yaffe from Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto and Jean Seely from the Department of Diagnostic Imaging at Ottawa Hospital.

Thank you TBCRU and BCSC for supporting translational breast cancer research!

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Breast cancer cell migration research

posted by:
Neil W

Hello, everyone! My name is Sami Khan and I’m an MSc candidate in the Department of Anatomy and Cell Biology at Western University. I work at London Cancer Regional Program under the supervision of Dr. Alison Allan. Our lab focuses on breast cancer metastasis: the process by which cancerous cells can leave the breast and establish tumours in other organs.

Sami Khan BCSC funded Breast Cancer ResearcherOne of the most common and deadly sites of breast cancer metastasis is the lung. For my project, I am currently investigating a family of proteins produced by the normal lung called selectins, and how they may play a role in helping breast cancer cells spread to and grow in the lung as metastatic tumours. To date, we have promising results that suggest selectins are involved in the migration (movement) of breast cancer cells and we are now investigating the mechanism by which this happens. Successful identification of a common mechanism by which the different selectins act will provide a new potential therapeutic target in limiting the spread of breast cancer to and from the lung.

This April, I had the opportunity to present my research at the 108th Annual Meeting of the American Association of Cancer Research in Washington, D.C. With over 20,000 attendees at the conference, it was an amazing opportunity to interact with scientists and clinicians from around the world, and learn about the breadth of research being conducted in the field. Returning to the lab with my newfound knowledge and expert advice, I am excited to see what we can accomplish next in our goal towards curing breast cancer.

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!

Sami Khan, MSc Candidate

Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre

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Pizza for Research

posted by:
Neil W

Ethan Williams is six years old  and a breast cancer fundraising hero.The questions!  Oh, the many questions of a six year old.  As a breast cancer researcher with a young child I get the usual barrage of questions about life but with a few tricky additions like “why do people get cancer” and “what is cancer”.  For me, these are just questions to try understand my work, a fact that I am very thankful for. I often find myself having elaborate conversations with my son about my research.  His interest in research stems from the innocence of curiosity and is driven by the fascination of how the body works.  Children always have a unique perspective and it’s neat to see this applied to cancer research. He often comes up with ideas that he gets really excited about, such as “Mom, why don’t we train immune cells to attack the cancer cells like they attack bacteria” or the after-bedtime inquiry “what if we broke the parts of the cancer cells that let them move”?

After all the talks about my work and getting happily brought along to various walks-for-cancer he decided that he wanted to do his own fundraiser for breast cancer research. While a walk or run wasn’t an easy event to organize for his kindergarten class, he went for the next best thing: a pizza fundraiser. Let’s be honest, kids probably like pizza more than a 5km walk or run. I should also mention that he insisted on homemade pizza as “it’s healthier and that’s important”. When I asked him why this was important to him he told me that “when I first went on the breast cancer walk/run (the Breast Cancer Society of Canada Mother’s Day walk, a family tradition for 3 years now) I really liked it, I liked that people were raising money for breast cancer.  I wanted to do more to help so I raised money for breast cancer with my class”. He then continued on “because I know some people out there needed it and I really wanted to help people who have breast cancer and with more money we can do more research and know more about cancer and then we can fix it”.   He truly believes in the power of research and seems to really understand that through research we make new discoveries we can actually help people live better lives.

When the big day arrived, we baked a bunch of pizzas unusually early in the day and delivered them to some very eager kids. I was just hoping everyone would have fun and learn something, but when all was said and done, it turns out they also raised a lot more than we expected. If some kindergarten kids can bring together a fundraiser on a random Thursday, I think it proves any of us can do something towards an important cause that touches so many lives.
Karla Williams

Become a breast cancer fundraising hero like Ethan, make a donation to life-saving breast cancer research today: bcsc.ca/donate


Karla Williams
is a postdoctoral fellow who has published several papers on invadopodia in cancer cells.  Ethan Williams is six years old, he attends kindergarten, helps his mom (Karla) make pizza and is a breast cancer fundraising hero!

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Novel Molecular Imaging Technologies

posted by:
Neil W

Hello! My name is Katie Parkins and I am a PhD candidate in the Department of Medical Biophysics at Western University. I work in the Imaging Research Laboratories at Robarts Research Institute under the co-supervision of Drs. Paula Foster and John Ronald.

Katie Parkins, PhD CandidateMy research involves using novel molecular imaging technologies to study concomitant tumour resistance (CTR): the ability of the primary tumour to inhibit the growth of secondary metastases. Tumor cell dormancy and recurrence are important clinical problems for breast cancer patients and their physicians as secondary metastases can develop many years after successful removal of the primary tumour and adjuvant therapy. We expect this research will produce important information about what influences metastatic tumour growth and possibly advance therapeutic development for breast cancer patients.

I have been fortunate to have many opportunities presenting my work at both international and regional conferences. My first author manuscript was published in the Nature Publishing Group journal, Scientific Reports, and recently recognized at the 2017 London Health Research Day as a recipient of the Lucille and Norton Wolf Publication Award. It’s very encouraging to see the interest in my work and the excitement for new results to come!

Thank you to BCSC for your trainee support!

– Katie Parkins, PhD Candidate

Pamela Greenaway-Kohlmeier Translational Breast Cancer Research Unit, London Health Sciences Centre

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