Precision Oncology takes a step forward at CCTG

Infrastructure funding awarded for slide scanner from Canadian Foundation for Innovation

The Canadian Foundation for Innovation (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) has announced a funding award of $197,065 to allow the Canadian Cancer Trials Group (CCTG) to acquire a state-of-the-art digital histology slide scanner. The fund supports researchers by providing the foundational infrastructure required to undertake leading-edge research.  The scanner will enable CCTG to share digitized scans of slides from tumour specimens with expert pathologists across Canada, enlisting their expertise in diagnosis and classification of tumours as well as quantify new biomarkers that could lead to improved treatments in three new trials. It will also enhance CCTG’s precision medicine program by supporting computer-assisted analysis of digital images as well as CCTGs biobank capabilities to support future research.

Modern oncology requires modern pathology. One of the most promising advances in cancer treatment is the use of biological markers or biomarkers to identify the therapies a particular cancer may (or may not) respond too and identify the specific treatment regimen that will deliver the greatest benefit for individual cancer patients. “Precision oncology” is a new way of looking at cancer where treatment is targeted to the unique makeup of that patient’s tumour.

The investment will allow CCTG to investigate new therapies for patients with lymphoma, ovarian cancer and select rare tumours and new biomarkers that may identify patients that benefit. The new scanner was urgently needed to support the LY.17, OV.24 and IND.228 trials, which required computer-based analysis of thousands of digital image files within a restricted timeframe.

CCTG maintains a Tumour Tissue Data Repository (TTDR), the largest single repository of tissues from cancer trial patients in Canada. With tumour and blood samples from over 20,000 patients enrolled on its clinical trials, CCTG is in a unique position to advance precision oncology in Canada. Once clinical trial specific research is completed on the specimens, they are available to the research community for new studies. The scanner will allow images of the collection to be made available for researchers for new projects.

“Digital pathology, the creation and use of digital image files from histology slides, has multiple applications in biomarkers research associated with clinical trials,” said Dr. Janet Dancey, CCTG Director, and JELF award recipient. “In contrast to visual microscopic inspection, computer-assisted analysis of digital images permits the objective, quantitative ascertainment of protein biomarkers by IHC or IF histology.” This technology will allow CCTG to create images that can be used by pathologists and scientists collaborating on the three trials and will be used in future research

“There is an urgent need to evaluate new therapeutic agents using clinical trials that incorporate well-designed biomarkers components such as those made possible by the new scanner,” says Dr. Dancey. “We are honored to be chosen to receive this funding and by investing in the new scanner, CFI will allow the CCTG to continue to contribute to improving the health of Canadians.”

Many thanks also to Dr. Lois Shepherd, Director of the Tumour Tissue Data Repository and Dr. David LeBrun, Academic Director of the Queen’s Laboratory for Molecular Pathology,who will provide the overarching supervision for operating the scanner.