Chair Launch

Launch of the Corinne Boyer Chair in Ovarian Cancer Research.
Thursday, October 5, 2000, 10:00 a.m.
Speech given by Barbara Vanderhyden.

Diane Sims, Grete Hale and Barbara Vanderhyden with a photograph of Corinne Boyer at the launch of the Corinne Boyer Chair This is such an honour!
In January 1998, many of us gathered here to celebrate the establishment of this Chair and one of the speakers on that day was Edwina Smith. Edwina was afflicted with ovarian cancer and told us all how she perceived the progression of her disease.... how she felt as though she had started out on the bank of a river, and with each subsequent treatment was moving to stepping stones in the river that were smaller and smaller, and progressively further from solid ground. Edwina slipped off her last stepping stone earlier this year, and it is my only regret on this day, that she is not here to join our celebration.

And indeed I do see this as a celebration. Partly because it has been a long time in coming. Mostly because it is high time that some concerted effort was given to researching ovarian cancer. Patrick Boyer recognized that, and has to be given full credit for turning his frustration and anger into a passion that motivated him to move mountains in his effort to raise awareness and funds for this disease. I will wear my new title, the Corinne Boyer Chair, with great pride.

I am grateful to the University of Ottawa and, in particular, the Faculty of Medicine, Dean Walker, Dr. Lefebvre and the Department of Cellular and Molecular Medicine for providing me with this opportunity. You won’t be disappointed. I also very much appreciate that the National Ovarian Cancer Association has given me new opportunities to have some influence with their organization on how funds raised in Canada for ovarian cancer research should be spent. And Michael McBurney has created a research environment at the Ottawa Regional Cancer Centre in which one can’t help but be stimulated, motivated and challenged to succeed.

What the university, Patrick, NOCA and the Cancer Centre have done is hand me a mixing bowl filled with opportunities and potential. I will add my own ingredients to return a platter filled with knowledge, ideas and strategies that are unpalatable to ovarian cancer. (It can be argued that since my husband does all the cooking in our home, my ability to return an unpalatable platter may be quite easy!). But while I will select the ingredients and am Master-Stirrer of the Mix, there are several people who are chopping and measuring behind the scenes. My husband, Paul Morley, Beth Mason and especially the folks in my lab keep me sane, fed and laughing and, most of all, show me nothing but unwavering confidence in my ability to select the right ingredients. It is because of their confidence that I can say without hesitation that we WILL achieve the goals of this chair.

And what is it that we are trying to achieve? Simply put, the only way that we will change the ability of women to survive ovarian cancer is research. Only research can provide the information we need to develop methods to prevent, detect and treat this disease. So my vision is simple: foster the development of an integrated, innovative, multidisciplinary ovarian cancer research program that will investigate the pathogenesis of ovarian cancer. That entails building a work environment that attracts, nurtures and rewards excellence in ovarian cancer research. The program must be multidisciplinary to enable the rapid translation of discoveries in basic science into clinical applications. With the appropriate collaborations, the knowledge generated from the basic science studies can be translated effectively into improved diagnostic and therapeutic strategies for women with ovarian cancer.

If research is the key, then how is it achieved? Research is accomplished by having an appropriate mix of people, ideas, equipment, and resources. I think it’s fairly obvious that the more hands that are given to a task, the more quickly the task will be completed. So we need to increase the number of researchers studying ovarian cancer. This can be achieved three ways: training, recruiting and collaboration, and I plan to use all of them. Training of new scientists is slow, but rewarding. The first Ph.D. student to graduate from my lab is now at the University of California in Los Angeles using a sophisticated screening process to analyze ovarian tumours and look for genetic mutations. My most recent graduate student is now working at a local biotech company where she was hired to test potential new chemotherapeutic drugs for their ability to kill ovarian cancer cells. By increasing the number of active researchers, and our ability to work in a network, we can combine everyone’s small successes into great leaps of discovery.

So what kind of network am I talking about? Well, I currently have a research team of 11 talented, dedicated, amazing people. While we work as a cohesive group, we also work within a network of other scientists, technicians, oncologists, pathologists, nurses, and patients, located in a number of institutions, including the Cancer Centre, the University, Health Canada, the Loeb Research Institute, the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and, most significantly, the Division of Gynecologic Oncology at the Ottawa Hospital. In future, interactions with this division will be essential for us to ensure that anything we discover is immediately evaluated for its potential to have impact on clinical practice – that is, the ability to treat women with ovarian cancer. Growth and strengthening of this network will depend upon recruitment of new members and taking advantage of opportunities for collaboration, and I’m looking forward to working closely with Dr. Fung Kee Fung and the other members of this Division to identify strategies that will achieve these goals.

Once you have the people, you need to provide them with the necessary resources for them to work effectively. One of the most significant resources currently being developed is a national ovarian cancer tissue bank. The National Ovarian Cancer Association has recently funded centers in Toronto, Vancouver and ourselves in Ottawa to collect ovarian tumours that can be stored and distributed to any scientist or physician in the country who wishes to do ovarian cancer research. It is just completing its first year of support, during which time 7 scientists requested samples from the tissue bank in Ottawa for their research projects. You know the quote from the movie, Field of Dreams: if you build it, they will come? Well, in one year, because of the presence of this bank of tissues, there was 7 times more research being done with ovarian cancer tissue in this city than was done the previous year. Ask Dr. John Bell what happened when we gave him some of our ovarian cancer cells to test his new virus therapy. He ended up on the front page of the Citizen! To be fair, Dr. Bell would have developed his therapy with or without the ovarian cancer cells from the tumour bank. But by providing him quick and easy access to samples of ovarian cancer, we have ensured that ovarian cancer patients will be among the first to have access to this promising new treatment. This type of collaboration, based on resources or ideas, has the greatest potential to achieve significant advances in the shortest period of time, and my plan to is to always have my antennae out, looking for new opportunities for research that could hold promise for ovarian cancer patients.

From what I have said, three things should be clear to you:

1) The battle against ovarian cancer begins in the research labs.

2) Research is accomplished by combining people, ideas and resources.

3) As Corinne Boyer Chair for Ovarian Cancer Research, I will do whatever is necessary to increase the amount of ovarian cancer research being performed ... by training and recruiting new researchers who will investigate ovarian cancer .... by building resources, like the tumour bank, that will enable other scientists to study this disease .... and by strengthening the ovarian cancer research network, both locally and across Canada, so that the knowledge we generate is translated efficiently into better diagnostic and treatment options for women with ovarian cancer.

Wish me luck!