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Early breast cancer detection: Dr. Karen Gelmon's research sheds light on disease

Dr. Karen Gelmon in her laboratory
A cutting-edge research collaboration is tackling early detection and improved treatment of breast cancer.  This new venture, between the BC Cancer Agency and The Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is being led by local oncologist Dr. Karen Gelmon.  The goals of this research are to increase scientific understanding of early changes in breast tissue, and learn how to better screen, diagnose and treat each individual cancer patient.  Experts from both institutions, in genetic sequencing, epigenetics, immunology, stem cell research and imaging, will work together.


Close to 3,000 women in BC alone will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, and about 600 will die, so our contributions to local research can make a huge difference.  Faced with intimidating statistics, we often feel powerless to affect the quality of our lives.  However, recent advances in medical knowledge are encouraging.

Dr. Gelmon explains the current direction in research and treatment.  “We now know that breast cancer is not one disease but is multiple different diseases, which may behave in unique ways and respond to different treatments.  We are beginning to move to personalized medicine, which we believe will provide better outcomes for patients.”

This approach will “be more effective, and less toxic as drugs that are not specific will not be given," she said. "With new early screening techniques, we may be able to know immediately whether a woman even needs therapy beyond surgery.”  

Currently, to err on the side of caution, many women are given harsh and expensive treatment.

Scan image of breast tissue

The BC province is well prepared to collaborate internationally.  For the past 15-20 years, the BC Cancer Agency has developed a large tissue bank from women treated here, with extensive genetic testing, and relapse and survival follow up.  

BC is uniquely positioned, because of this extensive data bank, to do translational research, to take questions from the lab and test them in the clinic, and vice versa.  Our local ability to further push the frontier is getting a boost with new partners and new science to test.

Scientists and medical specialists at the BC Cancer Agency are eagerly looking forward to working with investigators from Hebrew University.  The Israeli specialists are professionally recognized as being of incredibly high caliber.  There is excitement in the medical world about new genes they are studying.  The slated collaboration will test their new information with our local data bank and progressive technology.

A notable focus will be on methylation – what happens to DNA over time with exposure to the environment.  Improvements to prevention, screening and treatment will all likely be developed.  The medical community here is keen to work with Dr Howard Cedar, an international leader in the field.  BC stands to benefit from clinical trials being conducted here.

Most people have somehow been touched by breast cancer.  These studies will have tremendous impact on patients, families, and communities.  Imagine the improved health and lives saved by these pivotal advancements, as people’s cancers are specifically detected and treated earlier. 

Ongoing innovation requires support.  Not all of us can be doctors and researchers, but we can make a huge difference by contributing to medical momentum. 

On April 22, at a Gala Celebration dinner, co-sponsored by Canadian Friends of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem together with the BC Cancer Foundation, Dr Gelmon will be honoured for her continuing commitment to accelerating discovery and implementation of critical advances.  Donations for this collaborative research can be made in conjunction with the event.           

Dr Gelmon is realistically optimistic:  “We want results that will impact within the decade, and hopefully quicker than that, which for cancer and science research is fast.”

Tickets for the Gala Celebration Dinner are available at the CFHU website.



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