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Research

David Berman

Where medical science meets patients

[David Berman]When Dr. David Berman’s father was diagnosed with prostate cancer in the mid-1990s, the news struck him in both a personal and a professional capacity. Berman was still a pathology resident at Johns Hopkins University, but he closely followed his father’s course of radiation and hormonal therapies, which appeared to beat back the cancer. He was therefore surprised by his father’s sudden death earlier in 2015, which an autopsy subsequently traced to prostate cancer that had spread to, and almost completely compromised, the vital function of the liver.

For Berman, such a finding goes to the heart of his current work, which is dedicated to unravelling the challenges of dealing with prostate cancer. All too often this disease can be present without causing any serious symptoms or requiring any active treatment; yet this relatively benign form can coexist with a much more aggressive form that will grow and spread to other parts of the body. He and his laboratory team are therefore seeking molecular markers that would serve as the basis for the kind of tests pathologists need in order to assess the risks associated with each man’s form of the cancer. These new tests should help doctors and patients choose the most appropriate course of action without subjecting them to unnecessary treatment.

Last year, Berman was part of a group of researchers that received a five-year, $5 million Movember Team Grant from Prostate Cancer Canada for this work on novel prognostic markers. Such success is emblematic of the work he oversees as director of the Queen’s Cancer Research Institute, which is populated by researchers seeking to introduce new levels of precision and effectiveness to cancer therapy. This four-storey facility is home to a full range of activities, from understanding the fundamentals of the cell or the immune system to developing applications in fields such as pharmacology, epidemiology, and community health. Above all, this broad spectrum of activities means that investigators working on ideas in the laboratory can interact directly with colleagues who may be trying to adapt those same ideas for patient populations.

“We’re providing a service to the people who work in every area of this research cycle,” he explains. “We give bench scientists an opportunity to talk to the people who are implementing a new treatment, so that they each know how to best use their time and energy to adapt their ideas to something useful.”

The best ideas from our scientists and other scientists around the world get tested by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, which is the most exciting application of anybody’s bench research.

Berman is especially pleased by the presence of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group within this process. Although his current research has not yet reached the point where it could be subjected to this kind of careful, methodical scrutiny, he has already seen examples of clinical trials that reveal promising options for enhancing the quality of patients’ care along with the quality of their lives.

“We have basic scientists who dream up new ways to interfere with, measure, and characterize cancer,” he says. “The best ideas from our scientists and other scientists around the world get tested by the Canadian Cancer Trials Group, which is the most exciting application of anybody’s bench research.”

Tim Lougheed
(e)Affect Issue 8 Fall/Winter 2015

Learn more about: Dr. Berman's research