Joanna Przybyl receives one of seven 2024 Terry Fox New Investigator awards for her work in osteosarcoma

Joanna Przybyl, PhD, is one of seven talented early-career Canadian scientists who will receive awards totaling more than $3.1 million. This new funding will support scientific advances in early detection as well as leukemia, osteosarcoma, lymphoma and breast and prostate cancers.

Personalizing treatment for patients with osteosarcoma

Osteosarcoma is the cancer that Canadian hero Terry Fox was diagnosed with when he was just 18. The most common type of bone cancer in young adults, it is characterized by tumours that usually appear in the long bones around the knee or upper arm. However, because not all tumours are the same, there is no one-size-fits-all treatment.

“Adjusting therapy for patients with osteosarcoma is one of the main clinical gaps that needs to be addressed to improve outcomes,” says Prof. Przybyl, who is a scientist in the Cancer Research Program at the Research Institute of the McGill University Health Centre (RI-MUHC) and assistant professor in the Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences at McGill University.

“These tumours have different molecular profiles, which is something that needs to be recognized and incorporated into clinical care. Based on these molecular profiles, a different type of therapy may be more appropriate for selected patients,” she says.

With funding from a 2024 Terry Fox New Investigator Award, Prof. Przybyl will develop a novel liquid biopsy test to examine the molecular profiles of osteogenic tumours and predict potential treatment outcomes. In doing so, she hopes to help future patients by opening pathways to better treatment options and more personalized care.

“Liquid biopsy is an innovative technology that’s already transformed clinical care for patients because it allows us to analyze genetic changes in the tumour using a simple blood draw, rather than the invasive procedures usually required to access genetic material,” says Prof. Przybyl. “However, we still don’t have the right markers to apply it to osteosarcoma.”

In this project, she will identify these essential biomarkers so that liquid biopsy can be used to guide and improve care for patients with osteosarcoma. This approach will not only improve outcomes by matching patients with a treatment their tumour will respond to, but also spare patients from the serious side-effects incurred through ineffective treatments.

About the Terry Fox New Investigator Awards

The Terry Fox New Investigator Awards provide research operating grants to future leaders as they develop their independent careers in cancer research. The awards program requires that competition winners are mentored by two or more senior investigators of an established Canadian research group. Candidates must be scientific or clinical investigators within the first five years of a first faculty-level appointment in Canada.