Treating cancer with fewer side effects

Algorithms and quantum sensors give doctors a critical edge

Breakthrough quantum sensor detects cancer cells at the molecular level

With current imaging technology, tumours must be a certain size to be visible. Michael Reimer’s (BSc ’00) sensor uses nanosecond-fast technology that absorbs and detects light at the fundamental limit – a single photon – empowering oncologists to better spot cancer cells and deliver less-invasive, micro-targeted doses of potentially damaging treatment.

michael reimer

Michael Reimer (BSc ’00)

Leading a data-propelled revolution in personalized cancer care

paul boutrosPaul Boutros (BSc ’04) came to genomics work as a chemistry student at Waterloo excelling in the field from an early age, he wrote his undergraduate thesis on modeling DNA damage and received first place at the National Undergraduate Chemistry Conference.

“The innovative spirit of Waterloo gave me a sense of bravery and a willingness to try new things,” says Boutros. Later, his PhD research at the Ontario Cancer Institute garnered, the CIHR/Next Generation First Prize and an Invitrogen Canada Young Investigator Silver Award.

Boutros is now the co-lead for the Canadian Prostate Cancer Genome Network. His research analyzes genomic data to identify prostate cancer and create personalized therapy for individual patients. Boutros leads an international consortium focusing on optimizing algorithms for genomic data analysis. “Cancer research is changing incredibly fast, becoming as much of a data science as an experimental one,” he says.

“When we measure more features of cancers we can use that data to create tools that enable better decisions,” he says. “If we can identify the genes that are mutated in highly aggressive prostate cancers, we can use that information to identify patients who need more aggressive treatment. Or, we can identify new types of mutations which allow us to design new therapies with fewer side effects.”

It’s an incredibly exciting time to be in these areas and to be a small part of the revolution that will change the lives of millions of people around the world over the next couple of decades.

Sadly, close to one in seven Canadian men will be diagnosed with prostate cancer in their lifetime. But thanks to the efforts and ingenuity of researchers like Boutros the death rate has been declining 3.3 per cent every year since 2001.

“Genomics is leading a revolution, and is allowing us to develop new drugs, new clinical biomarkers and new understanding of how cancers start and evolve. It’s an incredibly exciting time to be in these areas and to be a small part of the revolution that will change the lives of millions of people around the world over the next couple of decades,” says Boutros.