Dr. Aaron Hansen

Dr. Aaron Hansen

Aaron Hansen is our newest addition at The Bras Centre. Coming from Australia, he has been with us now for 6 months. Aaron received his degree in Medicine and Surgery in 2004 from the University of Queensland and after completion of his advanced training in medical oncology was admitted to the Royal Australian College of Physicians in 2011. A number of Aaron’s mentors in Brisbane trained at Princess Margaret Hospital over the last 30 years and they highly recommended a fellowship at PMH. “I was told that the infrastructure and support was second to none at PMH, and this enables you to perform high quality clinical research,” he states. “A number of past fellows, who have since returned to Australia, have told me that it is a dynamic place to work. It is always exciting being here, as it is at the cutting edge of oncology developments.”

“A number of past fellows, who have since returned to Australia, have told me that it is a dynamic place to work. It is always exciting being here, as it is at the cutting edge of oncology developments.”

It was Dr. Lillian Siu, Co-Director of The Bras Centre, who plucked Aaron away from Australia and who is now his mentor. “I was surprised when she offered me a job, I felt very lucky,” says Aaron. “The main focus of my training had been clinical care – for example, looking after patients. I did not have many opportunities for clinical research!” In speaking with Aaron in The Bras Centre on a warm spring day in May, I was struck by how very young he was. In addition to this, was the sparkle in his eyes and his excitement when speaking of the project he was working on. “I am now heavily involved with two genomics profiling studies — IMPACT and MATCH. IMPACT stands for Integrated Molecular Profiling in Advanced Cancer Trials, and MATCH is a Feasibility Study of Genomic Profiling Methods and Timing of Sample Collection to Evaluate Clonal Evolution and Tumor Heterogeneity. So the theme for my Fellowship will be both drug development and genomics.”

Aaron continues his story: “I am working with three great mentors. Drs. Malcolm Moore and Lillian Siu, who are my co-supervisors, and I am working very closely with Dr. Philippe Bedard.” Dr. Bedard is the 5th medical oncologist at The Bras New Drug Development Centre and is very involved in Personalized Cancer Medicine and is leading IMPACT.

When I asked Aaron how he liked doing clinical research, he answered: “Clinical research? It is daunting! There are occasions when I feel completely out of my depth. I am on a steep learning curve but it is good.”

Aaron goes on to explain his exciting work: “The hot topics are tumour heterogeneity and clonal evolution, which are not new concepts. Let me elaborate. A patient’s cancer is generally not made up of only one cancer cell type. It is a collection of a number of different cancer cells, each with different mutations. We refer to this as tumour heterogeneity. We call these sub-populations of cells clones. These clones change over time and this is clonal evolution. Cancer is smart and it can get smarter over time. Dr. Ben Neel, a great researcher at The Campbell Family Institute at PMH once said that there are smart cancers and dumb cancers. The smart cancers are the ones that work out how to beat the treatment! We need personalized precision medicine. We need the whole picture; not part of the picture. That is what MATCH is about – it is about determining a way to know everything about a person’s cancer on a molecular level so we can better treat them throughout the course of their disease. We will start with breast, ovary and colon cancers and take tissue samples at different time points in a patient’s disease to look at the evolution of a patient’s tumour. We will also look at what treatments work at different stages of the cancer’s evolution. We need a new paradigm to fight cancer!”

We need personalized precision medicine. We need the whole picture; not part of the picture. That is what MATCH is about

Aaron made the move to Toronto in January of 2012, with his young family following him in March. Aaron is with us for two years as per his Fellowship contract and when I asked if he would like to stay here he said, “I have made no promises to anyone at home. I have come to broaden my horizon – the sky’s the limit and who knows what opportunities from around the world may open up from here?”

Yes, for Aaron, the sky is the limit and I can see it in the sparkle in his eyes when speaking of the IMPACT and MATCH projects that he is working on, and I can see it when I asked how he likes working here and how his face lights up with excitement. Yes, Aaron is on a steep learning curve and a good addition to The Bras New Drug Development Centre at The Princess Margaret in Toronto.

Aaron has the last word:
“It is a privilege to be working here.”

Maggie Bras, 2012