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.

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

School District 20 is advising the public there has been a positive case of COVID-19 at the Trail high school. Photo: Trail Times
COVID exposures at three West Kootenay schools

Three West Kootenay schools have students in isolation

Dr. Katherine Oldfield is a naturopathic physician, mother, and active member of the Nelson-West Kootenay chapter of Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Photo: Submitted
COLUMN: Restore our Earth, restore our health

Katherine Oldfield marks Earth Day by writing about the priorities we need to have

Air Canada will not be resuming flight to Castlegar anytime soon. Photo: Betsy Kline
Service to West Kootenay Regional Airport not included in Air Canada deal announcement

Air Canada will not be resuming flights to Castlegar at this time

A woman wears a protective face covering to help prevent the spread of COVID-19 as she walks past the emergency entrance of Vancouver General Hospital in Vancouver, B.C., Friday, April 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
54 more cases of COVID-19 in Interior Health

Thirty-two people in the region are in hospital with the virus, 11 of them in intensive care

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and United States President Joe Biden smile as they say farewell following a virtual joint statement in Ottawa, Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Trudeau pledges to cut emissions by 40% to 45% by 2030, short of U.S. goal

Trudeau announced target during a virtual climate summit convened by U.S. President Joe Biden

Letisha Reimer, 13, was killed Nov. 1, 2016 in a stabbing at Abbotsford Senior Secondary.
Second-degree murder conviction stands for Abbotsford school killer

Judge finds that Gabriel Klein is criminally responsible for death of Letisha Reimer

FILE – RCMP officers wearing face masks to curb the spread of COVID-19 stand by as protesters opposed to the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion block rail lines, in Burnaby, B.C., on Friday, November 27, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
‘Very scary’: B.C. travel rules too vague, shouldn’t involve police, civil liberties group says

BCCLA said that speaking with communities could have avoided top-down approach

Balsamroot, pictured here, can be found on Sunflower Hill in the Kimberley Nature Park, Eager Hill, Wycliffe Buttes, and many other areas across the Rocky Mountain Trench. (Paul Rodgers file)
Spring’s yearly spectacle of balsamroot

Ever year in May, balsamroot emerges for a brief showy period

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Ocean Legacy Foundation members conduct a shoreline pollution cleanup in Vancouver. (OLP)
It’s time to end ‘suffocating’ plastic pollution along B.C. shorelines, advocates urge

This Earth Day, Ocean Legacy Foundation is launching a free educational platform to educate the public about plastic pollution

A teacher-librarian in Nanaimo was fired in 2019 for checking out an age-inappropriate graphic novel to a student. The discipline agreement was published Wednesday, April 21. (News Bulletin file photo)
B.C. teacher-librarian fired for checking out too-graphic graphic novel to student

Teacher had been previously disciplined and suspended on two occasions

Former University of Victoria rowing coach Barney Williams is photographed in the stands during the Greater Victoria Invitational at CARSA Performance Gym at the University of Victoria in Victoria, B.C., on Friday, November 29, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
Former B.C. university rowing coach ‘deeply sorry’ after complaints

Barney Williams says he’s been committed to ensuring no other member of the roster had a similar experience

Aria Pendak Jefferson cuddles ChiChi, the family cat that ran away two years ago in Ucluelet. The feline was missing until Courtney Johnson and Barry Edge discovered her in the parking lot of the Canadian Princess earlier this month. Aria and her parents were reunited with ChiChi in a parking lot in Port Alberni. (SUSAN QUINN/ Alberni Valley News)
B.C. girl’s wish granted as her cat came back, two years later

Courtenay family reunited with cat that went missing in Ucluelet in 2019

Most Read