Carol Thorbes: New cancer-fighting funds to help patients with aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma

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      By Carol Thorbes

      Thanks to nearly half a million dollars in new funding, a Simon Fraser University researcher will advance his efforts to help patients with non-Hodgkin lymphoma live longer with less pain, and potentially even be cured.

      Ryan Morin, an SFU professor in the Department of Molecular Biology and Biochemistry, is among six national researchers to receive Terry Fox New Investigator Awards.

      The three-year awards, distributed by the Terry Fox Research Institute (TFRI) to promising researchers and co-funded by the Terry Fox Foundation and another co-funder, are game changers for many recipients at a critical stage in their research progress. Morin, who works at the B.C. Cancer Agency, is also co-funded by the B.C. Cancer Foundation.

      Morin will now move ahead with trying to advance scientific understanding of how aggressive non-Hodgkin lymphoma (NHL) genes continue to mutate after initial diagnosis of the cancer. In aggressive forms of NHL, tumour cells grow and spread throughout the body much faster than those in non-aggressive forms of this cancer.

      Most NHL types are more common among people aged 60 or older because the incidence rate increases with age, particularly later in middle age. There are also some viruses that are known to be associated with increased risk of lymphoma, in particular Epstein Barr virus and HIV.

      As a lifetime probability, Canadian men have a 2.4 per cent chance of getting NHL, while the probability for women is 1.9 per cent.

      “Examples of aggressive NHLs are diffused large B-cell lymphoma (DLBCL) and mantle cell lymphoma (MCL), both addressed by my research,” says Morin. “These cancers require treatment as soon as they are diagnosed as the patient would likely very quickly succumb to the disease.”

      The TFRI grant will enable Morin to develop blood tests that leverage existing DNA sequencing techniques for exposing where cells mutate on aggressive NHL genomes and transform our normal blood cells into lymphoma cells.

      “We don’t yet know enough about how this process continues while patients are being treated and what genetic changes contribute to treatment resistance and relapse. This is what our study for DLBCL and MCL is investigating, “ explains Morin.

      “If our research tells us what mutations prevent certain drugs from working, we may eventually find new drugs that work better on those populations of tumour cells that contain such mutations.”

      Another potential benefit of the simple blood tests Morin is developing would be their replacement of invasive tumour biopsies as the current means of tracking aggressive NHL’s mutations.

      “Blood tests are not fun, but they are a lot easier than a biopsy,” says Morin. “They could more easily and quickly help us choose the right combination of drugs to kill all the tumour cells in the first treatment, before they mutate.” 

      Carol Thorbes is an information officer with Simon Fraser University. This article originally appeared on SFU News online.

      Comments

      3 Comments

      Rhonda

      Aug 26, 2015 at 6:04pm

      will this research include folicular lymphoma?

      Steve Lumb

      Aug 28, 2015 at 1:37am

      Our 19 year old daughter was diagnosed with Glandular Fever in December 2013. What was actually going on we now know was a reactivation of EBV. She died suddenly in the doctors surgery 6 weeks later on 15th Jan 2014 while with her mum waiting for an appointment - her symptoms were worse - sweats and ongoing tiredeness. She had a cardiac arrest. Post mortem showed aggressive NHL in neatly every organ of her body. How on earth she walked into that surgery and still able to joke with her Mum that morning is beyond belief. She had had no cancer diagnosis whatsover. EBV triggered and took over her body to point of death in matter of weeks - is that really possible - can it be that fast?