Researching the optical, radiobiological and genetic properties of cancer.

The Department of Integrative Oncology was established in 2009. It is comprised of 14 principal investigators and over 150 total research personnel IO is the product of three previously independent research departments with a strong history of collaboration and shared resources at BC Cancer Research Centre: the Department of Cancer Imaging, the Department of Medical Biophysics, and the Department of Cancer Genetics and Developmental Biology. IO scientists have generated substantive intellectual property and tools for application to the cancer problem; findings and inventions from department scientists are presently the subject of multi-centre trials that are changing standards of care for multiple cancer types and IO scientists are counted as international thought leaders in many critical fields of cancer research.

How We Support Research

IO research spans very disparate fields of inquiry. The “integrated” portion of the department name is born of the fact that IO scientists have an exemplary track record of marrying expertise in different areas to achieve significant knowledge breakthroughs and novel tools that are being used in the clinic to improve patient care. 

Early detection/pre-malignant disease – For all types of malignancy, diagnosis of disease at early or pre-invasive stages is associated with a more favorable patient outcome. This is because earlier stage disease is typically smaller and less dispersed – and, hence, is more readily treated. The fact that most cancers are typically diagnosed at advanced stages is an unfortunate reality. A large portion of grant supported research in IO is dedicated to developing molecular and imaging tools for screening and detection of pre-malignant disease (especially for lung, oral, and cervical tissues).

Metastasis – Given how frequently tumours are diagnosed at late stages, IO scientists are also keenly focused on learning more about the processes that cause cancer cells to spread throughout the body. IO investigators have driven development of excellent new model systems for understanding this step in cancer evolution and continue to make critical discoveries related to the molecular biology of metastasis. These discoveries will lead to improvements in our ability to predict which patients are likely to develop metastatic cancer and to develop new treatment strategies to improve the care of patients with later stage disease.

Radiation biology – Radiation is perhaps the most widely applied cancer treatment around the world. IO is the only department at the BC Cancer Research Centre that is home to labs focused on improving understanding of the cellular and biological impacts of radiation treatments. IO research in this area aims to develop new drugs that will target tumour cells that are resistant to radiation therapy. It also aims to develop clinical tools for determining which patients have a higher risk of relapse after radiation therapy, so their treatment strategies can be adapted to address this challenge. 

Imaging – Several IO research scientists are world leaders in the field of optical imaging research. They exploit the interactions of light with human tissue at macroscopic and microscopic levels to detect, grade and treat early‐stage cancers. They conduct research to develop and validate innovative equipment and procedures, undertaking pioneering work in areas such as: automated image analysis of cell preparations; tissue spectroscopy; interactive/automated analysis of tissue preparations; confocal microscopy; photodynamic therapy; chemoprevention; and tissue modeling. IO scientists have an impressive record of translating their findings into clinical applications and nowhere is this more apparent than in the area of cancer imaging.

Lung cancer – IO is also home to a world class translational lung research program that has leveraged expertise in cell and molecular biology, imaging technology development, genomics, cell model systems, 3D computer modeling, and automated clinical sample review to drive multiple ongoing clinical trials and associated lung health studies. This thriving IO program is a key driver for improving patient outcomes for a disease responsible for over a quarter of all cancer deaths worldwide. 

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