Lab Canada

Awards to bridge lab discovery and clinic in cancer research

Vancouver, BC – Two new BC Cancer Foundation Clinical Investigator Awards, with a total of $1.5 million in funding over five years, have been awarded to two BC cancer researchers. One recipient, Dr. Jessica McAlpine, will pursue work in endometrial cancer, while the other, Dr. Aly Karsan, will develop tests for patients with cancers of the blood cells. The BC Cancer Foundation Clinical Investigator awards are supported by the BC Cancer Foundation and the BC Cancer Agency.


“The research being coordinated by Dr. McAlpine and Dr. Karsan has great potential to impact the case of patients with endometrial and blood cancers not just in B.C. but throughout the world,” said Dr. Malcolm Moore, president of the BC Cancer Agency. “We are very grateful to the BC Cancer Foundation and its donors for enabling these awards to be made.”


Dr. McAlpine is a surgeon specializing in gynecological cancers and a researcher with the OVCARE team at the BC Cancer Agency. Her research will focus on endometrial cancers, which currently have the fastest growing mortality rate of all cancers and are the most common gynecological cancer. There is currently no reliable way to identify if a woman’s endometrial cancer is low-risk and relatively curable or high-risk and life-threatening.


She is developing molecular tools that can discern the risk the cancer has spread or the likelihood of recurrence in that individual. This type of diagnostic tool would be the first of its kind and would help to spare patients with low-risk cancer from unnecessary treatments while ensuring women with high-risk cancer are treated aggressively from the start and receive appropriate surveillance and monitoring.


“This research has the potential to completely change the way we manage patients from the time of their first diagnosis through to their final visit, improving outcomes for women with endometrial cancer,” she said.


Dr. Karsan is receiving the John Auston BC Cancer Foundation Clinical Investigator Award, named in honour of past BC Cancer Foundation board director John Auston, who was an avid supporter of cancer research in B.C.


Currently the medical director for the Cancer Genetics Laboratory, BC Cancer Agency and head of the Centre for Clinical Genomics, Dr. Karsan will further his research on myelodysplastic syndromes (MDS), which are cancers of the blood-forming cells in the bone marrow. Patients with MDS have a very poor chance of survival as the cancer often progresses to an aggressive leukemia, specifically Acute Myeloid Leukemia.


Current treatment is unable to destroy the life-threatening MDS stem cells. “By studying the changes at the DNA and RNA level of these deadly MDS stem cells, we hope to develop clinical tests that will identify which patients should receive specific drug treatments or stem cell transplant,” he said.


The BC Cancer Foundation launched its Clinical Investigator Awards program in 2013 with two awards that are still underway, supporting the work of Dr. Kim Chi in metastatic prostate cancer and Dr. David Scott in lymphoma. Both projects have leveraged significant grants and have uncovered critical knowledge in the management and treatment of these common cancers.