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Associated Alumni

New hope for cancer research

(Tony Reiman)

For Saint John, NB, resident and multiple myeloma patient Susan Collins, new research into her disease is giving her hope for the future.

“Hope is what sustains all myeloma patients," says Collins. "We hope for a better quality of life and survival until the time when doctors tell [us] that myeloma is treatable and curable. Research offers hope for a cure." 

Last month, the Terry Fox Research Institute announced an investment of $5 million for New Brunswick researchers and their colleagues at other cancer centres in Canada to study how new precision medicine tools could improve, and potentially save, the lives of patients diagnosed with multiple myeloma, an incurable cancer of the blood and bone marrow. Many people with the disease live only months after diagnosis and only 40 per cent are alive after five years. New treatments are needed to help save and extend the quality of life for these patients. 

“This $5 million for the Multiple Myeloma Molecular Monitoring Study will enable this world-class research team to apply cutting-edge tools of precision and personalized medicine to better characterize, monitor and treat the disease over time, with the goal of identifying patients whose treatments should be tailored from the current standard of care for the best outcomes possible," says Victor Ling, Terry Fox Research Institute president and scientific director. "We hope this strategy will result in more lives saved.” 

Tony Reiman, a medical oncologist and professor at UNB, is leading the study. His team is comprised of researchers and clinicians at multiple sites around Canada, including Saint John, Vancouver, Calgary, Toronto and Montreal. He hopes the five-year study will result in game-changing new approaches to identifying, treating and monitoring multiple myeloma in patients, including those who are at high risk of relapse. 

“Currently, patients are all treated and monitored the same way,” says Reiman. "For patients for whom treatment fails, we need to be able to find new ways of doing things to change that. We’re working with sensitive newer techniques to better understand characteristics of the disease that escape our treatments and persist, even during clinical remission, that are going to eventually cause the patient to have a relapse, so we can find better ways to kill those cancer cells that survive the initial treatment."

Reiman's team in Saint John will organize all the participating centres, as well as conduct its own research and receive and bank specimens (blood and marrow) from the 250 myeloma patients who will participate in the project.

Study team members will use tests based on advanced techniques like immunoglobulin gene sequencing, multiparameter flow cytometry, PET scans, circulating tumour DNA analysis, and novel drug resistance assays to evaluate the patient specimens and other biosamples. 

Patients will be recruited by the study investigators at their own sites. For Colins, who is already a research participant, this new study is significant.  

"In a small way, by supporting studies like this one, I feel I am making a contribution to unlocking the doors to a cure."

Back to Alumni News Direct - March 2017