Scientific advance delves deeper into cancer than ever before

Researchers can now read the genomes of single cells within a tumour

Dr. Samuel Aparicio, BC Cancer distinguished scientist and co-lead author on the study. Photo by BC Cancer Foundation.

Republished with permission from the BC Cancer Foundation

VANCOUVER, B.C. – BC Cancer scientists, in partnership with the University of British Columbia, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK) and Microsoft have developed a new method for analyzing cancer tissue, allowing them to learn more about cancer than previously possible. Researchers can now read the genomes of single cells within a tumour, opening up a new wave of understanding of how and why cancer develops and changes over time.

This new method is so sensitive that researchers will now be able to analyze single cells from a tissue, and decode their genomes individually. This is a key element to understanding cell evolution – including how normal, seemingly healthy cells become cancerous and why cancerous cells spread and become resistant to treatment over time. The method will unlock the answers to crucial questions like: the origins of cancer, why cancers evolve, why they become resistant to drugs and why they metastasize. This research will also be a key pathway to cancer prevention, understanding the root environmental causes of the disease.

“The ways in which the cells differ from each other turns out to be important for understanding why they stop responding to treatments,” says Dr. Samuel Aparicio, BC Cancer distinguished scientist and co-lead author on the study with Dr. Sohrab Shah, BC Cancer scientist and current chief of computational oncology at Memorial Sloan Kettering. “It also tells us something about the history of the cancer; how it developed, how long it’s been inside healthy tissue, and how long it’s been growing. In some cases, a pattern of mutation in the genome might tell us that that person has been exposed to a carcinogen or some other thing in the environment which predisposes to that cancer. That’s what the methodology brings – the ability to address all of those questions.”

The new approach brings together leading-edge methods in genomics and computer science from the laboratories of Dr. Aparicio and Dr. Shah.

This advance comes nearly a decade after Dr. Aparicio and Dr. Shah and their team’s first foundational shift in decoding cancer: the ability to sequence human cancer genomes, which opened up a new era in understanding cancer and has since been transformational in the field.

The team began with two genomes, in a 2009 landmark study of cancer metastasis in a breast cancer and today has decoded more than 500,000 single cell cancer genomes, 50,000 of which are released into the public domain through this study. In the last ten years, cancer genomics findings have sparked new drug treatments, new ways of diagnosing cancer and new ways of monitoring cancer.

“Basic and translational research is essential to advancing medical discoveries that will have a profound impact on patient care,” says Dr. François Bénard, vice president, research, BC Cancer. “We are proud of the work our researchers do and the collaboration between partners including the University of British Columbia and Memorial Sloan Kettering.”

“A new era of breakthrough cancer research and treatment is here, thanks in large part to our donors who have supported Dr. Aparicio and his team at BC Cancer for the past decade, bringing hope and promise to patients in B.C.,” says Sarah Roth, president & CEO, BC Cancer Foundation.

“Sometimes obtaining the knowledge takes a bit of time and persistence, but there’s a message of hope in here,” says Dr. Aparicio. “Over the next ten years, we anticipate this technology will enable a fundamentally improved understanding of cancer biology leading to better ways to target cancers, predict response to therapy and combine interventions to improve the lives of patients.”

“We’re excited to be able to present this technology to other scientists, both at MSK and beyond,” adds Dr. Shah.

Research teams in the United Kingdom and United States have already begun to adopt the methodology developed at BC Cancer in Vancouver.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Survey, hotline launched amid probe into racist blood-alcohol guessing game at B.C. hospital

Mary Ellen Turpel-Lafond has been appointed to lead an investigation by Health Minister Adrian Dix

Kelowna woman fights off nighttime intruder

Kelowna RCMP are investigating a break-and-enter on Richter Street

Morning Start: Naps could save your life

Your morning start for Wednesday, July 9, 2020

Building to begin on Okanagan Rail Trail washroom

Project starts Monday, July 13, in Coldstream between Westkal Road and Kickwillie Loop

Ex-Vernon Mountie forfeits 20 days’ pay after sexual misconduct review

A former Vernon RCMP constable made sexual comments, grabbed genitals of male officer in two incidents 10 years ago

Canadian policing organization calls for decriminalization of simple illicit drug possession

Canadian Association of Chiefs of Police want policing focus of opioid crisis to be replaced with a health one

Pure magic: live performances revived in Revelstoke

Revelstoke Arts Council hosting Guerrilla Gigs on Wednesdays all summer long

Penticton photographer publishes book showcasing resilience of Okanagan people

Okanagan Strong showcases the bravery of many during crisis; from COVID-19, to floods, and fires

Summerland steam train to begin operations

Reduced schedule, physical distancing planned for Kettle Valley Steam Railway beginning July 18

B.C. appeals judge’s decision to leave three clubhouses in Hells Angels hands

The province has filed two notices of appeal related to the B.C. Supreme Court decision

Kelowna woman shares story of alleged dog attack

Resident Yuli Lavigne alleges the incident happened on Monday, July 6

Conservation officers relocate Spirit bear known to roam northwestern B.C.

Bear roamed valley north of Terrace for many years

Successful first week for Okanagan ride-sharing, service expansion underway

The service is expanding to Peachland, Lake Country, Penticton and Vernon by the end of July

B.C. premier applauds call to decriminalize drug possession

Police shouldn’t struggle with health issues, Horgan says

Most Read