Passion and patients
Jin Yong Patrick Park is pursuing his passion in cancer research thanks to the generosity of donors and patients.
Patients keep Jin Yong Patrick Park going. A master’s student at the Goodman Cancer Research Centre, Park and his colleagues rely on the generosity of patients and their families to do their work. He is studying how the hereditary underpinnings of pancreatic cancer impact the efficacy of treatment. Someday, the work he and his labmates do could help people better understand their risk of developing pancreatic cancer and help physicians decide which drugs will be the most effective treatment for each patient.
“The reason why our patients want to participate is because they want to help other patients who might have pancreatic cancer in the future—and that’s what research is,” Park said.
Park’s project, which aims to better understand the therapeutic spectrum of hereditary pancreatic cancer, is driven by the biobank and knowledge bank of the Quebec Pancreas Cancer Study.
To participate in the study, people with pancreatic cancer and their families complete surveys about their family history of cancer, lifestyle and their environment. Scientists working with Park then search participant’s DNA for genetic defects in many DNA repair genes, including BRCA1 and BRCA2, which are often associated with increased risk of developing certain types of cancer, including pancreatic cancer.
The study is led by his supervisor, Dr. George Zogopoulos. If you recognize Dr. Zogopoulos’s name, it’s likely because he and his patient, Serges Bériault, were the subject of several features earlier this year. Dr. Zogopoulos led a team of specialists through an experimental—and successful—protocol to treat Bériault’s otherwise-untreatable cancer. Bériault saw Dr. Zogopoulos because of the location of his tumour. Dr. Zogopoulos specializes in hepato-pancreato-biliary surgery—surgery on the liver, pancreas, and the series of ducts that connect these two organs as well as the intestine and the gallbladder.
Patients with pancreatic cancer face long odds. The disease has low survival rates, primarily because the current treatments are largely ineffective and the cancer is often detected only once it has progressed and spread to other organs. But if the genetic factors that contribute to the disease were better understood—possibly as a result of this large-scale study—genetic screening might be possible. Once people are aware of their genetic risk, they could keep a closer watch on their health, potentially detecting the disease earlier, treating it and surviving.
Seeing his supervisor at work has inspired Park. Dr. Zogopoulos is simultaneously a surgeon at the McGill University Health Centre and a scientist at the GCRC and the research institute at the MUHC, bridging the gap between the bench and the bedside. “Seeing him be so passionate in the clinic and the lab, it’s really driven my future goals as well,” Park said. “Hopefully one day I’ll be able to make that kind of impact as well.”
Like many researchers, Park has also benefitted from the generosity of the Centre’s loyal supporters. For example, a Canderel Studentship Award Park received this year has laid the foundation for future success. Studentships are the first step in many academic careers; applications for future funding can depend on showing that a trainee or researcher has already received support. “It’s like when you’re looking for a job. Even if it’s an entry-level job, they require experience,” Park noted.
Of course, the studentship also carries a much deeper meaning. “Getting my studentship made me realize that people care about our passion,” he said. “And knowing that there are so many supporters out there, it gives me confidence that one day we will find the cure for this deadly disease.”