KELOWNA – In July of 2011 a Kelowna man heard three words no one wants to hear: “you have cancer.”
Sean Connor has a brain tumour. The cancer destroyed a nerve that controls his tongue, making it difficult for him to speak but that’s not the worst of it.
“It’s a very nasty piece of work,” Connor said.
After trying treatments in Canada, and even going to California for surgery, nothing worked. In fact, things got worse. Connor had exhausted all of his treatment options and lost hope until he was asked to participate in a pilot study for a new way to treat cancer patients called the Personalized Onco-Genomics (POG) program.
“This is really important science,” says Connor.
Connor shared his story with donors at the fifth annual B.C. Cancer Foundation Discovery Luncheon in Kelowna on Tuesday. The foundation holds luncheons to raise money for various treatment options for cancer. This year the focus is on POG.
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“We do an analysis of the individual looking at a sample of their tumour and compare that to their own normal DNA and we look for what the differences are in genetic pathways that might be drivers of cancer behaviour,” said Robyn Roscoe with the B.C. Cancer Agency Genome Sciences Centre.
POG is still in its early stages but the B.C. Cancer Agency says it’s one of the most promising research initiatives.
“It’s world leading, it’s happening nowhere else in the world and we have a real competitive advantage because of the B.C. Cancer Agency in which we have embedded with it the Genome Sciences Centre that has the ability to do this whole genome sequencing which very few other places do have the ability to do,” said Erik Dierks, Vice President of Development at the B.C. Cancer Foundation.
It could be years before the POG treatment is widely used but the cancer agency has taken big strides in its efforts.
“We started with an initial cohort of 30 patients and now we are approaching 400 that have been in the POG program,” Dierks said.
All of the participants are British Columbians but there has been interest from around the world.
“You could pretty much throw a dart at a map and you’d find somebody who was really desperate to get on the program,” Dierks said.
Many participants in the program are either terminally ill or have exhausted all treatment options like Connor, giving them hope where they didn’t think there was any left.
“This POG is a whole new ball game and I believe it’s going to help,” Connor said.
The foundation raised $104,000 at the luncheon for POG program research.
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