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'Just the beginning': New discovery in ovarian and breast cancer research made by B.C. doctors

The study revealed new information to help fight deadly breast and ovarian cancers.

More than 300 people who've had breast or ovarian cancer have contributed to a British Columbia medical 'breakthrough.'

The group donated their tumour tissue, says Dr. Ciara O'Flanagan with the Aparicio Lab, giving researchers valuable insight into the most aggressive and deadliest forms of those cancers. Doctors surveyed more than 35,000 single-cell genomes at the BC Cancer Research Centre in Vancouver in collaboration with researchers at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

“We were able to uncover new mutations that varied from cell to cell," says O’Flanagan. "That variation could potentially underlie how those cells adapt, evolve and eventually resist therapies.” 

The mutations were especially prevalent in a subset of those breast and ovarian cancer patients that had poor overall survival, she added.

“It could represent new targets, potentially, for new drugs that are coming out.

Of the 300-plus patients, 158 were from British Columbia.  

The study focused on triple-negative breast cancer and high-grade serous ovarian cancer; treatment options are limited to chemotherapy, radiotherapy and surgery.

"So there's no targeted therapy, and this type of research really uncovers new information about the biology of those tumours that to date have been really hard to treat,” O’Flanagan says. "So hopefully, in the future, this new information will be able to guide treatment.”

This is just the beginning of understanding the tumours, she said, noting new drugs are always coming out so it'll be interesting to see how this information is used. 

“Some of these new treatments might work better for those than traditional chemotherapy.” 

The doctor told Glacier Media the discovery would not have been possible without all of the people who donated. She thanked them for their help in the research project.