​October is breast cancer awareness month. BC Cancer’s leading edge Cancer Single Cell Dynamics Observatory, a first of its kind in Canada, is bringing a whole new understanding of how breast, and other types of cancer cells, interact with other cells in the body and change over time.

The observatory will provide access to new and developing technology that will provide scientists with a deeper level of understanding of the origins of breast cancer, the basis of breast cancer treatment resistance, and the evolution of relapsed disease. The new understandings could play a key role in designing tools and therapies better tailored to individual patients, an approach known as personalized medicine. 

“Similar to the different COVID -19 variants, cancers evolve and mutate over time too, which leads to tumour cells becoming more effective at spreading to other parts of the body and more resistant to treatment,” says Dr. Samuel Aparicio, distinguished scientist, department head of Molecular Oncology and breast cancer chair at the BC Cancer Research Institute. “The Cancer Cell Observatory will help us fight variants by localising, tracking and visualizing gene activity in single cells, something that was impossible even a few years ago”  

Over time, results of research projects conducted at the observatory will inform precision oncology where in-depth knowledge of an individual’s tumour determines course of treatment. Providing personalized cancer treatments increases the safety and efficacy of the therapies, improves outcomes and decreases the economic burden on health care systems. 

“The targeted end users of the research outcomes are the patients that will benefit from improved diagnostics and access to personalized cancer treatments,” says Dr. Aparicio. “Ultimately this will result in improved outcomes for cancer patients and more treatment options.” 

The Observatory instruments are located at UBC and the Michael Smith Genome Sciences Center.   

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