A report from the 2021 Canadian Bladder Cancer Forum.
By: Scott Moffat
Video summaries from Bladder Cancer Canada Chair and Medical Advisory and Research Boards are available below:
- Ferg Devins, BCC Chair
- Dr Peter Black, Chair, BCC Medical Advisory and Research Boards
- Dr. Srikala Sridhar, Vice Chair BCC Medical Advisory Board
- Dr. Girish Kulkarni, Vice Chair, BCC Medical Research Board
- Dr. Wassim Kassouf, Past Chair, BCC Medical Advisory and Research Boards
The COVID-19 pandemic may have disrupted medical care and research in many ways, but a recent meeting of Canadian bladder cancer experts made it clear that Canadian doctors and people with bladder cancer are continuing to make substantial contributions to our understanding of this disease.
In February 2021, a group of healthcare professionals and patient advocates from Bladder Cancer Canada (BCC) met virtually at the 2021 Canadian Bladder Cancer Forum (CBCF). This two-day meeting focused on ongoing and upcoming bladder cancer research in Canada.
The meeting kicked off with a brief presentation from BCC, given by Ferg Devins, survivor and BCC volunteer board chair. He reassured the participants that despite the pandemic, BCC has continued to fulfil its three key mandates of: supporting patients, increasing awareness and education, and funding research. He stressed how BCC was already well established online, and that even though not being able to be in direct contact with bladder cancer patients was challenging, BCC was able to pivot to a strictly virtual presence fairly easily.
With respect to research, Mr. Devins reviewed the many ways that BCC provides support to the Canadian research community, including funding and research grants. In 2021, BCC is providing $100,000 in research grants, which will be matched evenly by the Canadian Urological Association, for a total of $200,000.
Most of the meeting, chaired by Dr. Peter Black (urologic oncologist in Vancouver) and Dr. Srikala Sridhar (medical oncologist in Toronto) was dedicated to presentations and discussions about priorities in bladder cancer research and the particular studies that are already underway or are in development. One session focused on the importance of the opinions of people who have bladder cancer (and their caregivers) when deciding on research priorities. The participants heard experts from both the US and Canada describe how they have engaged patients through surveys and interviews to help determine what the key research needs are for individuals with bladder cancer and their families. In the US, one of the key studies that been developed with patient priorities in mind is the CISTO study, which is looking at the differences in quality of life for bladder cancer patients who decide to have their bladders removed compared to those who opt to keep their bladders and undergo other treatments.
In Canada, the research priorities that were identified in patient surveys are: biomarkers, optimal and new treatment strategies, improving the tolerability of treatment and sequencing of treatments. As explained by Dr. Nimira AliMohamed, medical oncologist at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre in Calgary (and a member of the BCC medical advisory board), there is still some work to do to ensure stronger alignment between patient-identified research priorities and the actual research work being done. Over the years 2017-2019, she explained, about half of the research conducted in bladder cancer in the US and Canada has aligned with high-priority topics.
A separate session involved the presentation of new bladder-cancer-related research ideas by 12 different doctors from across Canada. These initiatives are set to start this year, and the researchers used this opportunity to get ideas from their colleagues and ask for their help in carrying out the research itself.
Dr. Wassim Kassouf, urologic oncologist at McGill University in Montreal, updated the group on the current status of the Canadian Bladder Cancer Information System (CBCIS), a not-for-profit joint venture between BCC and the Research Institute of McGill University Health Centre. The CBCIS is a database developed to collect up-to-date, anonymous information about all aspects of the care of bladder cancer patients across Canada. At the time of the CBCF, there were more than 5,000 patients enrolled in the CBCIS from 14 different sites across Canada, and the numbers continue to grow. Dr. Kassouf highlighted how this national, evolving, shared database will be instrumental in informing current and future care protocols and practices.
Other sessions at the CBCF were dedicated to reviewing recently completed research to ensure that Canadian bladder cancer practitioners are up to date on the important new findings the field.
Over the course of the two-day virtual meeting, what emerged was a consistent message: COVID-19 may have disrupted life in many ways, but Canadian researchers and their patients have continued to take strides forward to better understand and treat bladder cancer patients.