This week's vitals: Back to the beginning - Dr. Dennis Slamon visits Edmonton for public lecture on May 24

Vitals is a weekly roundup of essential news and events in the Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry.

FoMD Communications Staff - 17 May 2016

Dr. Dennis Slamon, world-renowned cancer researcher, is the featured speaker at the Gairdner Public Lecture, "New and novel approaches to breast cancer" on Tuesday, May 24.

While Slamon has transformed the understanding, treatment and prevention of cancer around the world, his work has an important connection to Edmonton that helped make his life-saving vision a reality.

Slamon is one of the pioneers of the development of breast cancer drug Herceptin. The treatment had its origins in 1987 when he first published a discovery in Science that about 20 per cent of breast cancers have a specific molecular alteration. The findings would eventually lead to the creation of Herceptin, which initially came under scientific criticism. Soon after, Slamon reached out to Mac Patterson, a molecular biologist with the University of Alberta's Faculty of Medicine & Dentistry, to help successfully confirm and validate his research.

Their partnership led to further collaborations with the U of A and eventually the formation in 1998 of Edmonton-based company Breast Cancer International Research Group-now called Translational Research in Oncology (TRIO).

In 2002 TRIO launched a clinical trial examining the effectiveness of Herceptin in preventing breast cancer recurrence. Among the initial patients participating in the study were 56 women in Edmonton.

The effect of Herceptin was so pronounced that Health Canada and the FDA approved the drug for use soon after the trial ended. To date, it has saved the lives of approximately 600 Albertans-a figure that grows by 60 each year.

"It was a home run clinical trial," says John Mackey, professor of oncology at the U of A, director of TRIO, and an early collaborator with Slamon. "I mean, it's not very often that you reduce recurrences by close to half and then reduce deaths by a third. It's about as good as it gets."

"People ask me, 'is there ever going to be a cure for cancer?' Well in part because of the work of Dr. Slamon and others, we know it's not one disease. It's many, many diseases and each cancer is unique in some way. The Herceptin story is one that has taught us that you need to understand the problem before you can have a good solution."

The University of Alberta recognized Dr. Dennis Slamon's advances in breast cancer research by bestowing him with an honorary degree in June 2015. In his address last spring to graduands of the faculties of medicine and dentistry, rehabilitation medicine and public health, Slamon acknowledged the Edmonton connection to his work, saying the local women who participated in the earliest clinical trials were not just research subjects or patients, but more like colleagues.

"They had a bigger dog in this fight than any of us had, but they gave up themselves and what time they had left to help others," Dr. Dennis Slamon (June, 2015).

The U of A community is honoured to welcome Dr. Dennis Slamon back to Edmonton to present the Gairdner Public Lecture, Tuesday, May 24 from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Bernard Snell Auditorium, University of Alberta Hospital.

Attendance to the Gairdner Lecture is free but an RSVP is required as space is limited. Please visit to register. Parking is free to attendees at the hospital's East Public Parkade, southwest corner of 83 Ave and 112 St (entrance off 83 Avenue). Please present your Eventbrite RSVP ticket at the Bernard Snell Auditorium to obtain your parking pass.

Canada Gairdner Symposium

Dr. Slamon's public lecture is part of a Canada Gairdner Symposium titled Cancer Discoveries: Molecules to Man, held in Edmonton May 24 - 26, 2016.

In partnership with the Gairdner Foundation and the Cancer Research Institute of Northern Alberta (CRINA), there are 20 world-renowned cancer researchers confirmed experts presenting on topics such as immunotherapy, targeted therapies, cancer metabolism, genomics and prevention.

RSVP is required for the Canada Gairdner Symposium. Please register here for Dr. Dennis Salmon's public lecture.