Dr. Christian Steidl believes that by mapping cancer's genes, he can find the keys to the disease's undoing. Now, thanks to an award from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research, he may just have the money to do it.
The North Vancouver resident, who is both an assistant professor at the faculty of medicine at UBC and a researcher with the BC Cancer Agency, has been on cancer's tail for 10 years. Recently, he has been focused on two diseases, Hodgkin Lymphoma and Primary Mediastinal B-cell Lymphoma, cancers that tend to strike young adults between the ages of 20 and 30. His success on that front has now earned him a $635, 000 cash injection from the foundation - enough, possibly, to allow him to complete his work.
"This secures my position for years," he said. "I can do better research; I can actually do what I intend to do. So yeah, this is a major game changer for me for sure."
The money, scheduled to be doled out over eight years, will go to support Steidl's efforts to map out the genomes of Lymphoma patients and their cancerous cells. That work, conducted together with the Genome Sciences Center, aims to turn up genetic mutations, which Steidl believes are one of the reasons cancer cells are so good at evading a person's natural defences.
"You can identify all the misspellings and all the errors that are going on in those cancer genomes," said Steidl. "We are finding mechanisms and gene alterations that give rise to immune privilege, . . . the concept that cancer cells are not efficiently attacked by the patient's immune system."
Once the gene mapping is completed, Steidl will move onto the next stage of his project: using that information to attack the disease. The researcher will work together with scientists from all over North America to conduct international trials aimed at identifying which treatments work best on which mutations. Ultimately, the goal is to allow doctors to tailor treatment regimes to the particular type of mutations that appear in a given patient's cancer cells.
"With better targeted treatments, then we can hopefully avoid some of the side effects of existing chemotherapy," said Steidl. The standard chemotherapy used for lymphoma can cause secondary cancers, infertility and heart problems, he noted.
In British Columbia, 80 to 100 people are diagnosed with Hodgkin Lymphoma and about 10 people are diagnosed with primary mediastinal B-cell lymphoma each year, said Steidl.
In eight years, he hopes his research will result in "better treatments to increase the cure rate for these young patients."