Mission Statement and Summary of Unit's Development Plan:
The mission of the Genetic Pathology Evaluation Centre (GPEC) is to improve the management of cancer patients through the rapid clinical validation of prognostic and predictive cancer biomarkers. Genomic profiling of cancers has been one of the fruits from the human genome project; however, a global shortfall in the capacity to validate the findings from such studies is the major "roadblock" between cancer genomics and the bedside. Only after biomarkers discovered through genomic screening of cancers can be proven to have clinical utility will it be possible to influence patient care decisions and improve patient outcomes. This is, in essence, the beginning of personalized medicine.
The GPEC scientific team realized that British Columbia is extremely well-positioned to play a leading role in biomarker validation. This is due to the large archives of cancer samples in the Vancouver General hospital and other BC hospitals, province-wide standardized protocol driven cancer care, and ready access to detailed patient records through the British Columbia Cancer Agency. The development of tissue microarray technology enabled GPEC to bring these assets together and create high throughput systems for the validation of cancer biomarkers. Because such translational research requires involvement of expert clinicians, we have forged strong connections with the Breast, Gynecology, Musculoskeletal and other tumour groups at the BCCA. Our focus will be on the validation and clinical correlation of novel molecular markers and treatment targets for cancers of the breast, female reproductive tract, and mesenchymal tissues. Through the commitment of the scientific team, GPEC has become one of the world's leading centres in the application of tissue microarray technology. The availability of this technical expertise in the context of the cancer care landscape of British Columbia makes GPEC's potential competitive on an international scale.
GPEC scientists have been focused upon the research output of the unit, which currently approximates one published paper per month, and the management of multiple collaborations with leading cancer researchers from around the world. Translational research is a major mandate in the Research Development Plan of both the B.C.Cancer Agency and the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute. In just over two years since its founding, GPEC has become an indispensable element in the research plans for both institutions.
The research theme for GPEC is validation of prognostic and predictive cancer biomarkers by immunohistochemical and fluorescence in situ hybridization studies on tissue microarrays of human tumor tissue samples.
Accountability and governance mechanisms:
The Genetic Pathology Evaluation Centre was founded in 2001 by C. Blake Gilks, David G. Huntsman, and Torsten O. Nielsen of the Departments of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine of the University of British Columbia, Vancouver Hospital and British Columbia Cancer Agency. The founding members rotate in the position of laboratory director, taking turns chairing the weekly meetings where lab business is discussed and decisions are made. This leadership model has proven very effective as there has been a strong shared commitment to the original vision of GPEC, described above.
The directors realized when setting up the laboratory that they must, of necessity, cross boundaries within the health care system, and face new ethical issues as we pursued research intended to directly influence patient care in the near future. Accordingly, GPEC has an advisory board in place which includes the heads of the UBC, Vancouver Hospital and BCCA pathology departments, the VP Research of the Vancouver Coastal Health Research Institute, the President of the BCCA, a medical ethicist, the heads of the Foundations of VGH and BCCA, a representative of the technology development office of the BCCA, and a representative nominated by the Canadian Cancer Society (as a patient advocate). This group has met each year since the lab was founded to receive a report on activities in the laboratory. GPEC finances are handled by UBC financial services, with support from the Prostate Research Centre staff, including Mae Locke (C.A.). Recent support from the Michael Smith Foundation for Health Research has facilitated the recruitment of a part time Director of Administration and Grant Facilitatator.
Since each of the sections from the clinically-annotated tissue microarrays built at GPEC is extremely precious, we have established committees with the Breast Cancer Outcomes Unit of the BCCA and the OvCaRe ovarian cancer research group to determine which potential projects are technically feasible and scientifically meritous prior to using the arrays. These meetings are minuted, and we have records of all array projects with proposed timelines.
Our goal is to move our ovarian, endometrial, cervical, vulvar, and sarcoma research programs to the point where our breast cancer program now is, through the construction of large tissue microarrays linked to outcome data.
GPEC was founded in 2001 when it was recognized that tissue microarray technology, first described in 1998, made it technically feasible to perform translational research on novel biomarkers in a rapid and cost-effective fashion. Together with uniform patient care, delivered according to provincial practice guidelines published by the tumor groups at British Columbia Cancer Agency (BCCA), and follow-up information available through BCCA, this created an unprecedented opportunity for translational research, that takes advantages of unique aspects of our health care system in British Columbia.