Hard work pays off for Aubrey J. Tingle Prize winner Randy Gascoyne

19 April 2016

What does it take to build an internationally renowned research program and become one of the world’s most influential scientific minds?

For 28 years, lymphoid cancer researcher Dr. Randy Gascoyne has drawn upon a formidable work ethic, valuable partnerships, and British Columbia’s world-leading cancer data resources to establish an international reputation for excellence.

Through his work at the Centre for Lymphoid Cancer, which he co-founded, Dr. Gascoyne has made numerous contributions to advancing our knowledge of lymphoma and related cancers. His research achievements include the genomics-based discovery of lymphoma-associated somatic gene mutations and related drug development and trial design. He has also developed biomarkers and complex diagnostic tests for implementation into clinical trial design.

In recognition of his outstanding career, Dr. Gascoyne was recently named the winner of the 2016 Aubrey J. Tingle Prize.

“I’m extremely flattered,” he says. “One gets their head buried in the sand as they’re working away at their craft and doesn’t necessarily pay that much attention to whether others are recognizing your work. To have a group of my peers decide that my career is worthy of this award is a big deal to me.”

One aspect of Dr. Gascoyne’s career that stands out is his prolific publication record. He has published nearly 500 peer-reviewed articles, along with more than 30 book chapters. In 2014 and 2015, he was recognized by Thomson Reuters as one of the Top 1 Percent Most Influential Scientific Minds in the World, based on analysis of more than a decade of citation data.

This record is impressive in its own right, but even more so when measured against Dr. Gascoyne’s clinical duties, which occupy 40 percent of his time.

“I'm trying to compete in a 60 percent window with people who do science 100 percent of the time,” he says. “I think without my work ethic, I wouldn’t have been as successful as I am.”

His work ethic enables him to spend seven days a week in his office, often arriving as early as 3 a.m. It’s a demanding schedule, but it has been crucial in balancing clinical practice against the work of establishing one of the top lymphoma centres in the world.

Another key factor has been a nearly three-decade partnership with Dr. Joseph Connors, with whom Dr. Gascoyne co-founded the Centre for Lymphoid Cancer. The combination of their skills and expertise created a strong foundation for the centre that has helped set it apart.

“There are some centres around the world that have someone close to Joe and there are some centres that have someone close to me, but there are almost none, with the exception of this place, that have the two working so closely together in the same institution,” says Dr. Gascoyne. “I think that’s been a secret of our success.”

Dr. Gascoyne also credits two unique resources that help British Columbia’s cancer research community succeed on the world stage. The BC Cancer Agency’s electronic database and biorepository of clinical specimens are powerful tools enabling population-based clinical and translational research that would not be possible in other jurisdictions.

"That database – there’s nothing like it in the world,” says Dr. Gascoyne. “It’s so, so powerful.”

As he prepares to retire at the end of June, Dr. Gascoyne is proud of what he has accomplished. From his early PhD work in immunology, he followed a fascination with the lymphocyte into a progressively deeper focus on pathology and lymphoid cancers. That path would lead him to become one of the world’s foremost minds in this field.

“I was always someone that never wanted to be superficial – I wanted to go deep in whatever I did in terms of a field of expertise or subject matter,” he says. “In retrospect, as someone who would have never even thought about pathology, looking back on my career, I couldn’t have chosen any better. I couldn’t have been happier.”

Created in honour of MSFHR’s founding president & CEO, the Aubrey J. Tingle Prize is given to a British Columbia researcher whose work in health research is internationally recognized and has significant impact on advancing clinical or health services and policy research.

The 2016 Aubrey J. Tingle Prize will be presented as part of the 18th Annual LifeSciences BC Awards on April 21.