Information about the Award 

Barbara was born in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and studied Interior Design at the University of Manitoba, graduating in 1969. After graduating she moved to Vancouver and worked for a number of architectural practices specializing in the design of residential, institutional and health care projects. She carried out specialized research into interior and architectural materials for institutional and health care facilities and was responsible for detailed space and equipment planning, the co-ordination of materials, finishes and colours and the selection of furniture and furnishings for a number of residential, institutional, hospital, intermediate and extended health care facilities throughout British Columbia. Major projects that she worked on included Langley Memorial Hospital, Burnaby General Hospital, Mission Memorial Hospital, the Childrens’/Grace Hospital in Vancouver, extended care facilities in Mission, Langley and Summerland and a number of residential projects in the Lower Mainland. Barbara passed away in 2015 after a long battle with ovarian cancer.

To continue her legacy, the Berthon family generously supports the Barbara Berthon Ovarian Cancer Prizes. The Barbara Berthon Ovarian Cancer Presentation Prize of $250 is awarded annually to the top ovarian cancer presentation by a trainee at the GCI annual trainee research day.

Diana’s Research : Novel tumour-restricted antibody against podocalyxin shows therapeutic potential for ovarian cancer 

Despite great improvements in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer over the last 30 years, cancer remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide. Cancer deaths are predicted to climb due to a growing and ageing population, highlighting the need to better understand the biology of cancer and how it becomes more aggressive. This knowledge is also crucial for the development of new diagnostic tools and treatments. We have previously shown that the presence of a protein called podocalyxin on the surface of tumor cells is associated with lower patient survival. However, because this protein is also normally expressed in the kidneys and blood vessels on healthy humans, concerns over toxic side-effects have hindered the development of drugs targeting this protein. Recently, we identified a new modification on podocalyxin that is only expressed in cancer cells but not present in healthy human tissue. Moreover, we have developed an antibody-based therapy that can target this modification, eliminate tumors and increase survival in pre-clinical models. This work presents exciting advancements in the understanding and treatment of cancer. 

About Diana 

Diana Canals is a recent PhD graduate at the University of British Columbia She is interested in better understanding tumor progression and metastasis, and in the development of new cancer immunotherapies. Her research focuses on the stem cell marker podocalyxin, and its critical role in tumor invasion and dissemination. She has identified a tumor-specific modification on this protein and shown that antibodies to this modification can selectively target and clear human cancer cells in animal models. 

What got you interested in this field? 

I’ve been intrigued by diseases, such as cancer, for a long time. Aside from the burden cancer puts on our healthcare system, I have always found cancer to be a very interesting disease form a biological standpoint and I really wanted to better understand it and help improve patient care. During my undergrad, I was fortunate enough to do one volunteer term and two summer studentships at the McNagny lab in UBC working on cancer research I was instantly hooked! This eventually led me to move from Spain to Vancouver to pursue my PhD degree in Medical Genetics with Dr. McNagny, where I focused on podocalyxin in cancer metastasis and on investigating its potential as an immunotherapy target.  

Where do you see this research going and what are your next steps? 

In our research we have identified an antibody that recognizes a tumour-specific modification on podocalyxin, a protein associated with low cancer patient survival. One of our next steps is to further investigate if this antibody can be used a therapeutic for cancers that have limited treatments, like high grade serous ovarian cancer. We are currently preparing a manuscript that shows how this antibody, when paired with a toxin, can kill cancer cells in vitro and in vivo!  

What do you like to do in your spare time?  

There is so much I love to do in the summer! I play beach volleyball, do yoga, and I recently started diving, which has been a blast! In the winter time, I like trying out new restaurants or recipes at home while spending time with friends.