Dr William Foulkes
O. Harold Warwick Prize co-recipient in 2013
Dr William Foulkes is a distinguished researcher who is recognized internationally for his contributions to our understanding of cancer genetics, in particular his work in hereditary breast and ovarian cancers.
He was one of the first to show that most BRCA1-related tumours are estrogen receptor negative and the first to publish on the impact of BRCA1 mutations in breast cancer outcomes. In the early 2000s, Dr Foulkes published two papers describing in detail the clinical and pathological features of BRCA1-related breast cancers. The papers are considered key in the field and have been cited over 600 times. This work, associating BRCA1 mutations with a “basal-like” phenotype, is considered a landmark in the science.
More recently, Dr Foulkes has made a number of notable discoveries. He identified the first mutation – in a gene called DICER1 – that connected multi-nodular goitre (multiple lumps on the thyroid) to a rare type of ovarian cancer. Dr Foulkes is a world leader in researching and detailing the syndrome resulting from these mutations. This highly productive scientist has also identified genetic mutations in a breast cancer susceptibility gene called PALB2 and mutations responsible for inherited susceptibility to cancer of the stomach, intestines and uterus. These findings have been particularly relevant to Quebec populations. Most recently, he led an international team that identified a gene for a rare form ovarian cancer known as small cell carcinoma of the ovary.
Dr. Foulkes is an author on almost 400 publications. Of these, 40 were commentaries or invited editorials in the world’s most prestigious medical journals and several are considered influential reviews in the literature, attesting to the respect held for him in the scientific community.
Dr Foulkes is a Professor in the Departments of Medicine, Human Genetics and Oncology at McGill University and the Director of McGill’s Program in Cancer Genetics.
Complementing his prolific research career, Dr Foulkes is dedicated to clinical practice, actively seeking to bring his research findings to the clinic and clinical experience to research. For example, he helped developed testing panels making breast and colon cancer gene screening available to Quebec women at increased cancer risk. In 2005, he established an international symposium on hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, which has included a day dedicated to the needs of mutation characters and their families (involving patients, genetic counsellors, physicians and scientists). His other honours have included an appointment as a Komen Scholar in 2010, one of two Canadians chosen to serve on the Scientific Advisory Council of Susan G. Komen.
Great progress has been made
Some cancers, such as thyroid and testicular, have survival rates of over 90%. Other cancers, such as pancreatic, brain and esophageal, continue to have very low survival rates.