Director’s Message

Dr. Torsten Nielsen

After a decade of service as the UBC MD/PhD program’s Associate Director, many of you will know me, but for those of you who don’t, here is a bit of my story. I grew up across the street from Cates Park in North Vancouver, and as a child I was inspired by Terry Fox to dedicate myself to becoming a cancer researcher. During my undergrad in biochemistry at UBC, I worked in several labs, and decided that if I wanted to do research that really impacts on cancer care, I should train rigorously in both medicine and in science. I spent most of the 1990s at McGill University as a student in their combined MD/PhD program, completing my PhD in DNA replication biology at the McGill Cancer Centre. I was fascinated with new molecular genomic technologies, but after some time on the oncology wards I realized that most of the action translating molecular biology into clinical care was poised to happen first and most directly in diagnostics, before it would lead to new drugs and treatment. So I decided to do a residency in Pathology, which really turned out well for me given its clinical focus on cancer and the excellent opportunities to link cancer specimens and health care data from British Columbia to new genomics research findings from UBC and from my network of collaborators in the USA and Europe. I secured a faculty position with 75% protected research time in 2003, with UBC, VGH and BC Cancer as my employers, and since that time I have received competitive funding from many Canadian and US agencies for my research programs studying breast cancer and sarcomas – the very type of disease my hero Terry Fox had, which has even become my clinical specialty! Even while working as Associate Director, I have been able to translate basic science into clinical trials in sarcomas, and to develop new diagnostics in breast cancer to the point of FDA approval and clinical implementation around the world. More importantly, I have been able to work with Lynn Raymond and Liam Brunham to provide openings and mentorship for a new generation of bright young people to pursue their dreams of becoming clinician-scientists themselves, in any of the many areas of medical need and scientific opportunity available in this emerging age of big data that is affecting all fields. As Director, I hope to maintain the excellence of this flagship program at UBC, while working to grow it further – so that even more of Canada’s best & brightest can bring their talents to harnessing the power of science and technology to improve the health of people not just in BC, but worldwide.