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Dismay over ovarian cancer outcomes leads to new professorship

February 20, 2012 - A new professorship created by the family and friends of the late Dr. Chew Wei, a Hong Kong physician who retired to Vancouver, will be devoted to finding new ways of detecting and treating women with ovarian and other gynaecological cancers.

Dr. David G. Huntsman, a Professor in the Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology and Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, and a consulting pathologist at Vancouver General Hospital, will become the first person to hold the Dr. Chew Wei Memorial Professorship.

Gynaecological cancers are among the deadliest of cancers, with a five-year survival rate of only 30 per cent, in part because the symptoms in the early stages are often vague, delaying diagnosis and decreasing the chances for successful treatment.

Dr. Chew, who retired to Vancouver in 1988 and died in 2009, practiced obstetrics and gynaecology for nearly four decades in Hong Kong.  He became increasingly dismayed by the prognosis for his patients who developed ovarian cancer, and was determined to do whatever he could, even posthumously, to improve outcomes for women facing this disease.  The professorship was created by a $3 million donation to the UBC Faculty of Medicine from his family and friends.

Dr. Huntsman's pathology background has enabled him to pursue methods of earlier diagnosis, including his identification of the major genetic mutations in two types of ovarian cancer, published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2009 and 2010.  He has also demonstrated the molecular differences between the different ovarian cancer subtypes, which could lead to more specific treatments.

This past year, Dr. Huntsman, who is also Director of the Ovarian Cancer Research (OVCARE) Program of B.C., was the first recipient of the Virginia Greene Leadership award, which recognizes outstanding contributions by British Columbians in the fight against ovarian cancer; he was honoured with the inaugural Karen Campbell National Award for Research Excellence from Ovarian Cancer Canada; and he received a Killam Research Prize from UBC.

"It is a great honour to have been selected to become the inaugural Dr. Chew Wei Memorial Professor," Dr. Huntsman says.  "The professorship will enable me to dedicate more time to working with the OVCARE team to find solutions for ovarian and other gynaecologic cancers.  Without the generosity of Dr. Chew's family and friends, and the women who donate their tumours for study, much of our research would not be possible."

"UBC's Faculty of Medicine is enormously grateful for the generosity of Dr. Chew's family and friends," says Dr. Gavin Stuart, Dean of the Faculty of Medicine and UBC's Vice-Provost, Health.  "I continue to work as part of an academic clinical team, treating women with ovarian cancer, so I'm particularly gratified that this gift will lead to earlier diagnosis, more tailored treatments and ultimately longer lives for my future patients, and those of my colleagues."

"Dr. Huntsman and the rest of the team at OVCARE are at the forefront of research in ovarian cancer, and now with this generous donation from Dr. Chew's family and friends, they are truly poised to move their work forward," says Dr. Geoffrey Cundiff, head of UBC's Department of Obstetrics & Gynaecology.


Media Contact:
Brian Kladko
UBC Faculty of Medicine
Tel. 604.822.2234
Cell. 778.838.4169

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