BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - 8

'Cancer is

a Disease of
the Genome'
Dr. Marco Marra reflects on knowledge gained
at BC Cancer's Genome Sciences Centre

"N

ow is the time," says Dr. Marco
Marra, distinguished scientist
and director of Canada's Michael
Smith Genome Sciences Centre at
BC Cancer. After nearly two decades of studying the
human genome, Dr. Marra, an influential leader in the
field of cancer genomics, believes we must focus on
understanding metastatic cancer.

PLANTING THE SEEDS
OF GENOMIC SCIENCE

traction. "It seemed, to many, to be a ridiculous idea
at the time," Dr. Marra says, "because we couldn't
even do it in the worm or fly or other classical genetic
model organisms with much smaller genomes. The
human genome project seemed too big, too complex
and the technology wasn't yet up to the task. But I
wanted to be a part of it."
Dr. Marra left B.C. for Washington University in St.
Louis, Missouri, one of two centres initially involved in
the Human Genome Project. "While I was there, things
started to move very quickly ... so I said goodbye to
my favourite little worm and, while working on the
human genome, began to really appreciate the value
of genomics in understanding cancer."

Dr. Marra, who ranks among the top 1 per cent of most
cited researchers in his discipline, has devoted his career
to cancer genomics: "I was pursuing a bachelor of science degree at Simon Fraser University before genomics
GENOME SCIENCE IN B.C.
existed. But I was lucky to work with a professor there
In 1998, Dr. Marra got a phone call that changed the
who was very interested in studying the relationship
course of his career once more. "At this point in time,
between genes, which are the functional units in DNA,
Canada had not been an active player in the Human
and their locations in the genome. So we began using
Genome Project. Then Dr. Victor Ling called me and we
a worm known as C. elegans-which is no bigger than a
began to have discussions about what could happen in
grain of salt-to make mutations and use these mutaB.C. for genomics and for cancer."
tions to study genome structure and function."
Generous donors to the BC Cancer Foundation
It didn't take long for Dr. Marra to move on from
were also beginning to take notice of the imporstudying mutations in worms to thinking about the
tance of genomics: "They empowered Dr. Ling with
implications of genome structure and function for
humans with cancer. At around this
time, the seeds of the Human
Genome Project were being
planted. Driven in the U.S. by Nobel
Prize winner Dr. James Watson
and his colleagues in the United
Kingdom, the idea that all the base
Your gift will ensure patients benefit from
pairs that make up human DNA
the innovative research happening at the
could be sequenced started to gain

HELP ADVANCE THE FUTURE
OF CANCER CARE

BC Cancer Agency. Contact Jan New today
at 604.877.6157 or jan.new@bccancer.bc.ca.

8

PARTNERS IN DISCOVERY



Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of BC Cancer - Fall 2017

BC Cancer - Fall 2017
Opening Thoughts
Contents
Healthy Insights
Why I Give
Researcher Profi le
Dr. Marco Marra says “now is the time”
Testing to prevent cancer in families
Counselling program helps families affected by cancer to cope
Legacy Giving
Regional Roundup
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - BC Cancer - Fall 2017
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - 2
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - Contents
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - Healthy Insights
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - 5
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - Why I Give
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - Researcher Profi le
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - Dr. Marco Marra says “now is the time”
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - 9
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - 10
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - Testing to prevent cancer in families
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - Counselling program helps families affected by cancer to cope
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - 13
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - Legacy Giving
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - Regional Roundup
BC Cancer - Fall 2017 - 16
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