Multi-talented clinician-scientist, who treats patients and researches breast cancer at the Jewish General Hospital’s (JGH) research institute, is also an avid cyclist in Le Week-end pour combattre le cancer

Dr. Mark Basik likes to be challenged. For 20 years, the clinician-scientist at the JGH has been an enthusiastic participant in the fundraising event Le Week-end pour combattre le cancer and its earlier incarnations.

Le Week-end is what got me into cycling originally and now I really enjoy it,” Dr. Basik said.

Dr. Mark Basik

Dr. Mark Basik is an enthusiastic cyclist in Le Week-end pour combattre le cancer

This year, participants have the choice of walking or cycling in the scenic neighbourhood of Vaudreuil-Dorion. According to Dr. Basik, Le Week-end is a very special event because so many people work together to support a cause close to them all.

“It has a true impact, allowing us to make research findings that can affect patient care and could directly help countless lives in the future,” he said.

“I want more of my patients to not need surgery. That’s one of the reasons why I do research.” – Mark Basik

Cancer research at the JGH’s research institute, which is called the Lady Davis Institute (LDI), is fueled by the fundraising from Le Week-end and the results are helping to change the landscape of patient care. While a typical treatment plan for cancer involves drug therapy or radiation followed by surgery, up to 60 percent of all cancer patients are now arriving at their surgery dates with no visible tumours still present, which questions the need for surgery altogether. It is all thanks to the advent of new therapies – and generous donors.

“I want more of my patients to not need surgery,” Dr. Basik said. “That’s one of the reasons why I do research.”

Understanding drug resistance in cancer patients

Dr. Basik heads the Cancer Genomics and Translational Research Laboratory at the LDI. The lab bridges basic and clinical research to study drug resistance in breast cancer, particularly its most aggressive subtypes. Resistance – in which drug treatments become less effective over time – inevitably develops in most patients with advanced cancers at some point in their treatment. It’s a significant challenge, particularly if treatment had originally been going well.

Dr. Basik’s lab uses cutting-edge technology to further understand the mechanisms behind the emergence of resistance. The technology helps to identify novel therapeutic targets as well as biomarkers (which indicate the presence of cancer in the body) to monitor recurrence. The objective is to prevent resistance from developing and improve cancer therapy to benefit patients.

Dr. Basik’s surgical patients contribute to his research by providing cancer tumour tissue to be studied in the lab. One of his team’s approaches is to use cancerous human tissue to create tumours in mice, then treat the mice in different ways to learn how resistance eventually develops and how this could be spotted at an early stage – as well how it might be avoided or treated.

“We grow these tumours in mice, then we throw a lot of different treatments at them to find out what stops the tumours from growing and how,” Dr. Basik said simply when summing up his research.

This is one part of a multi-faceted effort by scientists to learn more about cancer and treat it in very targeted ways. Recent study results of several new treatments are, he says, “very significant, but not surprising to those of us involved in research because we can see the progress being made in our understanding.”

Clearing the surgery backlog from the pandemic

In the meantime, surgery for breast cancer and other cancers remains a key pillar of treatment for many patients. Dr. Basik is pleased to report that the JGH easily caught up with the backlog of breast cancer surgeries caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Fortunately, most breast cancer surgery is quick and can be done as out-patients, so we weren’t affected by the pandemic as much as other surgeries,” he said.

What’s not so easy to overcome, however, is that cancer screening and diagnoses were also postponed during the pandemic. The JGH is now seeing more cancers being discovered at later stages, which makes treatment more challenging.

A multi-faceted fundraiser

Another one of Dr. Basik’s passionate interests is in a completely different field – choral music. For more than a decade he has directed the choir of the Montreal chapter of Communion and Liberation, a worldwide Catholic movement founded in the 1950s. The choir’s annual Christmas concert, called Chanter Noël, has helped raise funds to support his cancer research, among other community organizations.

But before thinking about Christmas music again, Dr. Basik will have some cycling to do.

This year’s edition of Le Week-end pour combattre le cancer takes place in Vaudreuil-Dorion. Participants can cycle on August 20 or walk on August 21. Register now: