July 23, 2019

Blood samples, biostatistics and a fresh perspective: The makings of a cancer prediction machine

Jordyn Walton and David Soave
Jordyn Walton and Dr. David Soave

Biostatistics Training Initiative (BTI) alumnus brings on new BTI trainee to study Canada’s largest population health dataset using today’s top technologies

Recently, circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) – DNA released from cancer cells that freely circulates in the blood – has garnered much attention not only as an alternative to traditional tissue biopsies, but as a potential blood-based biomarker for early cancer diagnosis.

The ability to detect the earliest blood-borne traces of cancer largely rests in our ability to determine which molecular markers indicate that a cancer is developing – or which patterns in ctDNA can predict whether a cancer will grow. Dr. David Soave sees this as a mathematical challenge that, if solved, could have huge impact for better predicting and diagnosing a wide variety of cancers.

“To find cancer earlier or predict who will develop the disease, we need to carefully compare human samples from those who will develop cancer and samples from those who won’t,” Soave, an Assistant Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and OICR Associate, says. “This type of challenge requires new statistical models, methods and computational techniques that can decipher large, complex and high-dimensional data.”

Last year, the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) unified the data from several provincial longitudinal health studies into a national cohort consisting of more than 325,000 participants who are voluntarily donating their health and biologic samples to research. As some CPTP participants will develop disease and others will not, this dataset provides an unprecedented resource for researchers like Soave to discover the earliest traces of cancer that appear several months to years prior to an initial diagnosis.

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September 4, 2018

Meet our students – 2018

Meet Dike Aduluso-Nwaobasi, Sarah Donald and Benson Wan. Find out how summer co-op positions affected their career and educational journeys.

April 9, 2018

Biostatistics Training Initiative boosts Ontario’s cancer research community

Dr. Gregory Pond, Jenna Sykes, Dr. Richard Cook, Yonathan Brhane, Dr. Wei Xu

Dr. Gregory Pond, Jenna Sykes, Dr. Richard Cook, Yonathan Brhane, Dr. Wei Xu.

Cancer researchers often confront quantitative challenges and puzzles that are best addressed by biostatisticians – specialists in a field for which there is a growing demand. In a 2008 survey of Ontario oncologists, eight in 10 respondents identified the lack of trained biostatisticians as a factor limiting their progress in cancer research. OICR has recently renewed funding for the Biostatistics Training Initiative (BTI) following a successful review. With this funding, the BTI will continue to benefit Ontario’s cancer research community and  develop the next generation of cancer biostatisticians. The BTI is run in partnership with in the University of Waterloo and McMaster University.

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December 11, 2017

Strict e-cigarette policies are meant to keep non-smokers from smoking. But they may also be preventing many smokers from quitting

A person holds a cigarette in one hand and an electronic cigarette in the other.

Regulatory strategies on electronic cigarettes vary from country to country. The International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project, led by Dr. Geoffrey Fong, explored how different regulatory environments might influence the effectiveness of e-cigarettes for smoking cessation. This research could be used to help shape e-cigarette control policies that minimize the potential health risks and recognize the potential benefits of e-cigarettes as a smoking cessation aid.

Continue reading – Strict e-cigarette policies are meant to keep non-smokers from smoking. But they may also be preventing many smokers from quitting

May 31, 2017

Study highlights effectiveness of worldwide tobacco control treaty

World No Tobacco Day

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco is used by over 1 billion people and is the number one preventable cause of death and disease. Tobacco—especially smoked tobacco—causes 30 per cent of the world’s cancer cases and so tobacco control is the number one strategy for preventing cancer. Tobacco use kills six million people a year. It also brings a staggering economic cost of US$1 trillion a year in health care expenditures and lost productivity.

The WHO Framework Convention of Tobacco Control (FCTC) is a treaty that was created to combat the global tobacco epidemic. Currently, 179 countries and the European Union have joined the treaty, which obligates countries covering about 90 per cent of the world’s population to implement a set of strong evidence-based measures to reduce tobacco use. The FCTC is, in effect, the most extensive cancer prevention effort in history. The FCTC recently marked ten years since its coming into force. But how much impact have these measures made? A research team centered at the International Tobacco Control Policy Evaluation Project (the ITC Project), University of Waterloo (UW), recently published a study that demonstrated the positive impact of the FCTC on smoking rates.

Dr. Shannon Gravely, Research Assistant Professor at UW, was the lead author on the study, which was published in Lancet Public Health in March. The study examined how the implementation of five key FCTC tobacco policies affected smoking prevalence across 126 countries. “We looked at the highest-level implementation (i.e. fully satisfying the requirements of the FCTC) of these measures between 2007-2014 and the smoking prevalence estimates for the first 10 years of the FCTC, from 2005 to 2015,” says Gravely. “We found a strong and statistically significant association between the number of these FCTC measures and decreases in smoking rates.”

The five tobacco demand-reduction measures studied by the ITC Project team were: 1) Taxation; 2) Smoke-free policies; 3) Warning labels; 4) Bans on advertising, promotion and sponsorship; and 5) Cessation programs. The researchers found that with each additional measure implemented at its highest level, countries experienced an average decline in smoking prevalence of 1.57 percentage points, or a relative decrease of 7.09 per cent.

“It is indeed good news that the FCTC measures are associated with decreasing the number of smokers, but the bad news is that few countries are actually implementing these effective measures,” says Gravely. Only a fifth of the countries covered in the study had implemented taxes on tobacco at the highest levels called for under the treaty. “We found this to be particularly worrisome as it is known that increasing the price of tobacco via taxes is the most effective way to reduce tobacco use,” says Gravely. In fact, none of the five key FCTC policies had been implemented by even half of the countries.

“Overall, the study found that these measures, when implemented at their highest levels are very effective at reducing smoking rates,” comments Gravely. “Our findings highlight the importance of tobacco control measures in improving global health by directly decreasing the rates of smoking thus in turn indirectly reducing tobacco-attributed-non-communicable diseases.”

Dr. Geoffrey Fong, Professor of Psychology and Public Health and Health Systems at UW and OICR Senior Investigator, is Chief Principal Investigator of the ITC Project. Fong, a co-author of the article, commented, “This study should be a call to arms for governments to strengthen and accelerate their efforts to fully implement the FCTC secure in knowing that such efforts will significantly reduce the devastation caused by tobacco products in their countries.”

August 11, 2016

OICR’s Geoff Fong receives major funding to examine e-cigarettes and the impact of public health policy

Around the world it has become common to walk down the street and see a new trend – people vaping (using e-cigarettes). The widespread use of e-cigarettes has caught the attention of the scientific community. Recently, OICR Investigator Dr. Geoff Fong was awarded funding from Canadian and U.S. federal funding agencies to evaluate the impact of e-cigarettes and determine the effectiveness of policies around their use.

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May 31, 2016

World No Tobacco Day: Preventing the world’s leading cause of cancer

World No Tobacco Day

For many years, smoking was considered a sophisticated and glamorous pastime advertised to millions as a source of relaxation and freedom. But today, in the face of decades of research showing the harmful short and long-term side effects of smoking, including cancer and lung disease, that perception has almost entirely disappeared.

Dr. Geoffrey Fong

Dr. Geoffrey Fong

Yet many people continue to smoke. Almost 15 per cent of Canadians (more than four million people) were active smokers in 2013, with the majority of smokers reporting that they smoked daily. Tobacco use is the leading cause of cancer and cancer deaths in the world and it contributes to many other serious health conditions. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), tobacco kills approximately six million people per year globally. Preventing the use of tobacco and helping users quit are the important first steps in a long-term effort to ensure fewer people develop and die from lung cancer and other related diseases.

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February 26, 2016

Biostatistics Training Initiative Kick Off

This meeting sets stage for next four years of biostatistics training

Biostatistics Training Initiative Kick Off Meeting sets stage for next four years of biostatistics training

As the cancer research landscape rapidly changes, so to do the needs of hospitals and research institutes for the types of young researchers on their teams. New technological advances have led to the need for qualified biostatisticians who can work with the large amounts of data that are now an essential part of many cancer research projects.

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