A Canada-wide collaboration involving more than 30 pediatric cancer research organizations is helping to create a nationwide tissue bank for research as part of the Terry Fox PROFYLE (PRecision Oncology For Young people) project.

Dr. Jennifer Chan, a University of Calgary researcher, is in charge of creating the standard of storage for the tissue bank and she believes the collaboration will prompt discussions between experts that could potentially lead to cures.

“I have no doubt this is going to save lives,” said Dr. Chan. “There are already cases where we have found ‘Okay, this is a particular mutation. We have a drug for that’.”

Approximately 80 per cent of children diagnosed with cancer will survive but, for the families of the 20 per cent of children lost to the disease, the moment they realized there were no more medical options was heartbreaking.

It’s a feeling Dale Zukowski knows all too well.

 “On March 13 of 2009, my son was diagnosed with a solid brain tumour called medulloblastoma and the first word’s the oncologist said was ‘He has a solid tumour and it needs to come out’,” said Zukowski. “They didn’t know it was cancerous at the time but they took a biopsy when they removed it and it turned out it was cancer.”

Zukowski says her son Joel’s diagnosis at the age of 10 was followed by nine months of treatment including chemotherapy, radiation and stem cell transplants.

“He recovered probably 90 per cent,” said Zukowski. “On June 2 of 2014 he relapsed and a couple of spots showed up in a routine cranial MRI. Even though they were small specks, we know how aggressive cancer can be especially when a child relapses.”

“It came back with a vengeance and he ultimately passed away October 3, 2015.”

Joel was 16 years old.

“They did take samples of his tumour postmortem and a lumbar puncture postmortem and we hope that they’re using those samples to eventually find a cure for cancer,” said Zukowski. ““They don’t tell us where they go or how they’re used so we just have to trust that Joel was contributing.”

While Joel’s samples are not part of the new tissue bank, Dale Zukowski discovered her son is making a difference during her visit to the University of Calgary’s Foothills Campus.

“Joel’s samples are here and we collected not only the CSF from the lumbar puncture but were able to collect tissue from 15 different little areas so that we can study tumour heterogeneity,” Dr. Chan told Zukowski. “They’re being used for research that is being done right now.”

“Joel, in effect, now is a scientist. He’s part of the scientific community.”

“I love that,” beamed Zukowski.

With files from CTV’s Brad MacLeod