UPEI Researcher Recognized For Outstanding Contributions

19 May 2016

Charlottetown, PE -

UPEI researcher recognized for outstanding contributions to cancer
Dr. Bill Whelan, professor and Chair of the Department of Physics at the University of Prince Edward Island, was among the Islanders publically recognized April 28 for their volunteer contributions to the fight against cancer.

Bill grew up on PEI, is a graduate of UPEI who went on to complete masters and doctoral level studies at McMaster University and later returned to PEI to raise his family. Bill, mild and warm in manner, is in the midst of an impressive career at UPEI and is the astute leader behind a variety of Island initiatives including his recent appointment as Co-Chair of the Learning Partners Advisory Council with Premier MacLauchlan.

The Canadian Cancer Society PEI presented Dr. Whelan with their Outstanding Service Award in recognition of his 12 year commitment to the organization. In addition to being an active member of the local Board of Directors throughout those years, Bill also served on the Society’s National Board of Directors and National Governance Subcommittee, and chaired the PEI Board of Directors.

“Bill has been a tremendous support and champion for the staff team here in PEI,” explains Executive Director, Lori Barker. “His generosity, optimism and commitment have been extremely motivational. His leadership on the Board of Directors will be missed.”

Dr. Whelan has been involved in cancer-related research since 1999, both in Ontario and Prince Edward Island. In a recent interview with the Society he shared the following:

Canadian Cancer Society:
Dr. Whelan, thank you so much for taking time to share some reflections with us on the heels of receiving an award from the Society and wrapping up your 12 year term on the Board of Directors with us. Congratulations!

Bill: Thank you. My involvement with the Society has enriched my life more than I can say, so receiving an award for it is very special for me.

Canadian Cancer Society: Let’s start with telling us how you first become involved with the Canadian Cancer Society.

Bill: As a researcher I apply for grants all the time, mostly to federal government agencies funded by tax dollars. But in 2003 I applied for and received a $225,000 research grant through the Canadian Cancer Society. I really had no idea how the Society raised funds to support research so I was motivated to learn more and the following year responded to an ad in the paper calling for board members. Since then I’ve come to realize that raising funds like that $225,000 involves many caring volunteers working long hours engaging many, many donors and supporters. The effort needed to raise an amount like that is tremendous.

Canadian Cancer Society: Yes, raising funds is a huge undertaking. Why is raising funding for research, in particular, so important?

Bill: Funding research is about investing in our future, a future where the burden of cancer on individuals, families and communities is lower than what it is today.

So it is important, yes. But the Society also offers a number of programs that provide supports and cancer information to Canadians every day. So there does need to be a good balance in funding support for research and programs to meet the needs of today and those of tomorrow.

Canadian Cancer Society: What kind of cancer-related research are you involved in these days?

Bill: These days I’m involved in a project focused on an emerging area known as optoacoustics. We’re exploring the use of light and sound to detect and monitor the treatment of cancers. It’s exciting stuff, I think! We’re building a future where cancer detection and treatment is non-invasive - a future where someone with cancer may not have to go through surgery or radiation.

Canadian Cancer Society: That does sound exciting. How long will it be before this technology is available to cancer patients?

Bill: Research, by its nature, is incremental and typically involves a series of discoveries over a number of years. We have been working on this technology now for 13 years, focusing our efforts on detecting prostate cancer. But there is still much to do before considering human clinical trials. That said, my company partner in this research, Seno Medical located in San Antonio Texas, has just completed a clinical trial in the US. They are detecting breast cancers using this technology and are interested to see if optoacoustics can provide better information as to whether or not a woman requires a tissue biopsy. This will make a huge difference because 80% of breast biopsies are negative.

Canadian Cancer Society: Do you know of any examples of Canadian Cancer Society research benefiting Islanders?

Bill: Definitely. And first let me mention that research supported by the Canadian Cancer Society has been recognized internationally as some of the best cancer research in the world.

The Canadian Cancer Society has a rich history of funding major discoveries in the fight against cancer, from the development of Cobalt-60 radiation therapy in the 1940s, to stem cell research in the 1960s that led to bone marrow transplants, to the discovery of the reovirus in the 1990s that led to the HPV vaccine. These scientific breakthroughs were possible because of Society volunteers and supporters. In 2014, more than 1400 patients were enrolled in 110 Society funded clinical trials focused on developing new treatments to improve patient outcomes and 14 of these clinical trials ran in PEI.

Canadian Cancer Society: Thanks so much Dr. Whelan. Are there any last thoughts or a word of advice you’d like to share?

Bill: I hope the public understands that it can take years or even decades from an early discovery funded by the Society to the delivery of a new practice or treatment used in a hospital. It takes huge investments of time and energy from volunteers, donors and researchers. But it certainly is worth the effort.

The Canadian Cancer Society is a national community-based organization of volunteers whose mission is the eradication of cancer and the enhancement of the quality of life of people living with cancer. When you want to know more about cancer, visit our website www.cancer.ca or call our toll-free, bilingual Cancer Information Service at 1 888 939-3333.