Mark Labrecque is looking to put an end to cancer.
The PhD candidate in health sciences at Simon Fraser University is on the leading edge of research into the genetic composition of prostate cancer cells. The results of his work could eventually lead to specific chemotherapy drugs that would target the genetic codes that allow those cells to create new blood vessels to feed the tumour or to spread elsewhere in the body.
Labrecque’s research recently received a major boost when he was named one of five students to be awarded $40,000 scholarships by Prostate Cancer Canada. The money will allow the researchers to “achieve results and alter the way this disease affects men and their loved ones,” said Rocco Rossi, the CEO of Prostate Cancer Canada.
The stakes are high. Prostate cancer affects one in seven Canadian men.
“It’s such a common cancer, it’s tough not to have it staring you in the face,” said Labrecque, who’s from Surrey.
The death of federal NDP leader Jack Layton from prostate cancer put a further spotlight on the disease, increasing pressure to find new treatments or even a cure.
But, said Labrecque, it’s the slow, meticulous work that’s likely to get results.
He’s been toiling in his lab at SFU since 2008, after he earned his undergrad degree in health sciences at UBC. His advisor at the time was doing research on breast cancer and the two diseases shared some similarities on a cellular level that piqued Labrecque’s interest.
At the time, there was little known about the genetic structure of prostate cancer cells.
“We’ve been starting from scratch,” said Labrecque, who figures he still has another year-and-a-half of work ahead of him before he realizes any sort of breakthrough.
The money will allow him to concentrate full time on his research rather than worrying about making ends meet on the nominal stipends earned by graduate students.
More importantly, the award is a confirmation that he’s on the right track. Each applicant had their work vetted by a panel of experts and top researchers in the field.
“Everybody likes positive reinforcement,” said Labrecque, who will also team up with a mentor he can tap into for further guidance.
“Every year we make small steps,” says Labrecque. “I’m hoping one day we’ll be able to get rid of this.”