The Gynecologic Cancer Initiative (GCI) is pleased to share that this year, two of the GCI’s very own researchers have been named as new Canada Research Chairs. Dr. Jessica McAlpine will hold the Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Molecular Stratification of Gynecologic Cancers and Dr. Paul Yong will hold the Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in Endometriosis and Pelvic Pain. 

The Canada Research Chair (CRC) program invests millions of dollars each year to support some of the most promising research in multidisciplinary fields.  

  • Tier 1 Chairs are recognized as outstanding researchers who are acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their field. They hold their title for seven years and are renewable once, with an annual grant of $200,000. 
  • Tier 2 Chairs hold this title for up to five years and are renewable once. The title is allocated to emerging researchers who have the potential to lead in their fields. Tier 2 Chairs receive $100,000 annually for each of the five years, plus an additional $20,000 stipend for those in their first term. 

Dr. Jessica McAlpine, Tier 1 Canada Research Chair 

Jessica McAlpine is a Professor at the UBC Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and Co-Head of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology. Since 2012, McAlpine has also been director of the OVCARE Tissue Bank at BC Cancer. McAlpine’s research focuses on the development of molecular tools to evaluate risk and proper care strategies for gynecologic cancers. Her work on the molecular subtyping of gynecologic cancers has been highly influential through clinical guideline changes and the development of new clinical trials both locally and internationally. By identifying and testing patients for molecular biomarkers, molecular subtyping can direct more personalized and effective treatments and care for individuals with gynecologic cancers.  

Dr. McAlpine’s Tier 1 Canada Research Chair molecular stratification program aims to use molecular subtyping to identify risk of recurrence, inform clinical trial assignment groups, and identify appropriate treatments for the patient based on this molecular information. The identification of molecular subtypes also has the potential of uncovering new therapeutic targets that may pave the way for more precise treatments in the future. In large part, McAlpine’s work will allow for improved patient outcomes by ensuring that treatments are tailored to each patient – all the way down to the molecular level. 

Dr. Paul Yong, Tier 2 Canada Research Chair 

Paul Yong is the Research Director and Gynecologist at BC Women’s Centre for Pelvic Pain & Endometriosis. He is also an Associate Professor at the UBC Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Division of Reproductive Endocrinology & Infertility. Yong’s research focus lies in the study of endometriosis-associated pelvic pain. Endometriosis is the growth of uterine cells outside the uterine and it is recognized as a common cause of pelvic pain including painful periods, pain with sexual activity, and chronic pain. Yong and his lab have been approaching this lesser-studied area of gynecologic conditions through clinical, biomedical, and knowledge translation lenses. 

Dr. Yong’s Tier 2 Canada Research Chair in endometriosis and pelvic pain program aims to identify new endometriosis biomarkers that can assist in the molecular subtyping of the disease to provide for more personalized care. With pain being one of the most common outcomes of endometriosis surgeries, Yong’s program seeks to investigate clinical predictors for pain after surgery to help minimize unnecessary surgeries, and thus pain, for patients. He will also use his appointment as Tier 2 Canada Research Chair to further investigate endometriosis biomarkers to predict chances of a lesion reoccurring. Other areas of investigation include improving the resources available to patients and clinicians when trying to decide on proper treatment and care, of which a big part consists of Knowledge Translation to meaningfully disseminate essential and timely information about endometriosis detection, treatment, and care.  

Q&A Session With Paul Yong & Jessica McAlpine 

Q: How do you think this nomination will impact your research program for the coming years? 

Yong: The CRC nomination will synergize with the ongoing progress in Canada in  recognizing endometriosis as a research, clinical, and societal priority, and will lead to more substantive national and international collaborations and thus higher impact work. 

McAlpine: What is exciting about the CRC for me is the security of protected research time enabling me, and our incredible research team, to dig deeper into molecular stratification of vulvar and endometrial cancers. It provides support for current team members and for hiring new talent, support for equipment, and a platform for UBC (and BC Cancer, GCI, OVCARE) to lead precision medicine initiatives in gynecologic cancer. The work outlined in this CRC is motivated by recognizing deficiencies in our current gynecologic cancer care and wanting to do better for our patients not in 20 years’ time, but now. I am excited to provide more options for our patients, directing them away from unneeded additional surgery or adjuvant treatments or providing opportunities for precision therapy. 

Q: What advice do you have for trainees hoping to make an impact with their research? 

Yong: Think boldly, keep persisting despite the ups/downs of research, and collaborate with those who have different perspectives, knowledge, or methodologies. 

McAlpine: Work with a multidisciplinary team.  Recognizing the strength in others and what critical questions and expertise they bring to the table is critical and will ensure your wheels are not spinning without purpose. 

Promising Future of Molecular Stratification 

Molecular subtyping is an up-and-coming tool in translational research, with the potential to truly improve patient outcomes. With that being said, the GCI is proud to support Dr. Jessica McAlpine and Dr. Paul Yong in their Canada Research Chair projects with endometrial and vulvar cancer, and endometriosis, respectively. We are extremely excited to see how these new Chairs will shape the future of gynecologic research and care.