Five years ago, Yikan Wang joined the Shah Lab to pursue postdoctoral training at BC Cancer, where she’s just completed a term researching ovarian cancer.

While most cancers are classified based on where they start to grow, research shows that ovarian cancer grows very differently. This isn’t one disease, but a series of subtypes with varying responses to treatment.

“Ovarian cancer is a complicated set of diseases, and we need to study these diseases from a variety of perspectives to improve our knowledge and develop more effective treatment options for patients,” says Yikan.

Working with reams of information from women in treatment for ovarian cancer and their oncologists, Yikan and her team examined DNA sequences from 133 patients using state-of-the-art technology. In examining mutations and structural characteristics, they found a way to refine the subtypes of ovarian cancer based on specific patterns related to DNA repair. When they compared this classification to data on patient outcomes, they found commonalities in the way specific groupings responded to treatment.

Their discovery may help explain why some cases of ovarian cancer respond to standard treatment while others do not. Findings will contribute to further research on whether there is a way to accurately predict which patients should proceed with standard treatment, and which should be referred to other therapies.

Yikan led design of the experiments, which used tissue samples from Vancouver and Montreal (parts of the Ovarian Cancer Canada Tissue Banking Network) as well as Japan. She was first author of a paper, published in Nature Genetics, to detail the study.

Yikan Wang

In recognition of her contributions to this important work, Yikan was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Anita Unruh Prize.

“This award is very encouraging to our study,” says Yikan. “I am hoping that continued research on ovarian cancer will eventually help women with this disease to benefit from improved outcomes.”

The Anita Unruh Prize was established in 2016 by Patrick McGrath in honour of his wife Anita, a former associate dean and professor. The Prize rewards excellence in trainee research on ovarian cancer and encourages trainees to establish careers in research related to this disease.

“It is an honour to receive the award and my thanks go out to the Selection Committee,” Yikan adds. “This project was a collaborative effort, and I want to express my deepest gratitude to our lab team and all the collaborators on this research work.”

Yikan will receive the Anita Unruh Prize at the 2018 Canadian Conference on Ovarian Cancer Research (CCOCR). Proudly sponsored by Ovarian Cancer Canada, the Conference convenes leading minds in ovarian cancer research. It takes place in Edmonton, Alberta from May 26 to 29.

For women and families living with ovarian cancer, CCOCR offers a unique opportunity to hear directly from researchers during a survivorship workshop focused on the latest developments in treatment and psychosocial support. For information or to register, go to

If you cannot attend the Conference and have a question about ovarian cancer research, please be sure to follow Ovarian Cancer Canada on Facebook and Twitter for the chance to have your question answered.