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Precision medicine to extend lives of advanced prostate cancer patients

Ten months. That was the how long men with advanced prostate cancer could expect to survive 20 years ago when Dr. Kim Chi started his career.

“Since then, there have been great advances, helped along by funding from Prostate Cancer Canada,” Dr. Chi says. “The median survival for our patients now exceeds 36 months.”

Chief Medical Officer at BC Cancer, Dr. Chi is leading a team making tangible progress for men with lethal forms of prostate cancer. They’re using DNA in blood to more precisely target treatments – an approach called a “liquid biopsy.” It may sound like a term coined by your favourite sci-fi movie, but it’s actually a simple technique that analyzes cancer genes.

“We take a blood sample and isolate cancer DNA floating around in the bloodstream to genetically profile the cancer and hopefully find weaknesses to target with new therapies,” he says.

What’s in a gene?

Before liquid biopsies, Dr. Chi and his team were doing research with traditional biopsies – where a needle is inserted to retrieve a tissue sample. The problem is that because advanced prostate cancer spreads to the bones, the procedure is invasive and can be painful. In addition, it was hard to get a good enough sample to analyze, meaning they could not get the results they needed to be useful for many patients.  

“This drove us to develop a less invasive approach to profile a man’s cancer,” he says.

They found they could isolate prostate cancer DNA in the blood and analyze it. A door opened for them.

Results are just around the corner

This exciting work seems futuristic – without any other information about their patients than a blood sample, doctors could be able to tell if the prostate cancer is aggressive. But the future is not far off – liquid biopsy is being tested in the lab right now.

In a large clinical trial funded by Prostate Cancer Canada, Dr. Chi is looking at whether a man’s liquid biopsy can predict which treatment (hormone therapy or chemotherapy) will work better for him. He is hopeful they will have results to direct treatment choices in a few years.

“This is going to be mission critical – being able to expand this to all patients”

Transforming prostate cancer


Dr. Kim Chi

Because there are different types of prostate cancer, a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t work. Dr. Chi hopes that eventually, we’ll understand the disease well enough to know which treatments will work best for each patient.

“We’re going to cure when we can cure, we’re going to leave the cancers alone that don’t need to be treated, and for the men we can’t cure, we’re going to turn it into a chronic disease. We’ll manage it just like we can manage high blood pressure or diabetes.”

Using donor support to save men

Dr. Chi couldn’t have started this important work without Prostate Cancer Canada’s donors.

“Prostate Cancer Canada funding has been instrumental in shaping my career,” he says. “It was the first peer-reviewed grant I received over 20 years ago and really gave me the chance to launch myself into prostate cancer research. For new investigators – this is critical.”
“The more funding that we have – the more opportunities that we have to make new discoveries and change the course of prostate cancer.”


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Posted: 2019-11-11 3:53:30 PM


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