Dr. Connie Eaves talks with Phillip Barker, vice-principal, research and innovation at the UBC Okanagan, after her presentation at the cancer care forum at the Innovation Centre in Kelowna on Friday. (Barry Gerding - Black Press Media)

Cancer cure breakthrough needs more research

Dr. Connie Eaves, a leading biotech research scientist in Canada, was keynote speaker at cancer care forum held Friday in Kelowna

When it comes to exploring revolutionary cancer care research and innovation, Dr. Connie Eaves is one of the foremost people in that field across Canada.

Eaves was in Kelowna on Friday as the keynote speaker for the day-long Future Of Health cancer care forum held at the Innovation Centre.

Eaves’ hour-long presentation talked about her personal research history on how normal and cancer stem cells grow related to leukemia and breast cancer.

Eaves is a professor of genetics at UBC in Vancouver and co-founded one of Canada’s foremost biotech research labs in partnership with her husband, Dr. Allan Eaves.

She said the complexities of blood cell research remains complex, trying to understand the genetics behind mutating cells that cause cancer, thereby developing a potential cancer cure.

“It is not really an A to B to C to D to F and so on in logical steps in how healthy blood cells mutate, which is part of the challenge,” said Eaves.

“As a scientist, there is not clear definition of what cancer is biologically. Like many things in life, it is not black and white.

“There is gradation and understanding the complexity of blood cells and how they behave and can be controlled when they have cancer and when they don’t have cancer is an extremely complex problem.

“We know the common features (of cancerous blood cells) but we really don’t know much more.”

Read more: Kelowna oncologist changing face of breast cancer treatment

Read more: Brain tumour research focus on genetics

While stem cell offers some exciting potential advances in treating cancer, more of what she calls “basic scientific research” is needed to discover new answers to the cancer mystery.

“Great discoveries we have made in science tend to come from mistakes. Big breakthroughs tend to come from something you weren’t expecting in your initial research and going off in that direction,” Eaves said.

But finding that elusive cure or cures for cancer remains the goal, one that Eaves has dedicated her life to find through her research efforts.

She also acknowledges the many graduate biotech students who have worked in her lab over the years.

“I love young people who are smart and want to do things,” she said.

The culmination of her life’s work led her to be selected as the 2019 Canada Gairdner Wightman Award, called Canada’s equivalent to the Nobel Prize in biomedical research.

She award recognizes her pioneering work and leadership in the study of hematopoietic, mammary and cancer stem cells, along with her dedicated advocacy for post-graduate student researchers and women in science.

Her efforts helped develop methodologies to isolate putative stem cells from living mouse and human tissues and detect them based on their ability to grow as single cells in specialized tissue cultures or in transplanted mice.

This made it possible to quantify blood and mammary gland stem cells and discover a hidden population of suppressed normal blood stem cells in patients with chronic myeloid leukemia, an observation that stimulated a search for new therapies for this disease.

She was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame in May.


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