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Cancer survivor hails investment in new artificial intelligence platform

Gail Falconer-Klinck doesn’t hold a PhD. She isn’t a doctor either and she hasn’t spent countless hours pouring over tissue samples in a lab. And yet, this 64-year-old teacher who grew up in Sherbrooke, Quebec is, without a shadow of a doubt, a cancer expert.

Gail’s experienced more than her share of dealing with the “Big C” in her lifetime. Her first connection came in 1997, when her father passed away from lymphoma. Then, in 2002, her mom succumbed to lung cancer despite having never smoked. She lost her sister to the same cancer 15 years later.

Seven years ago, she took on a new challenge, that of becoming a cancer survivor.  She was first diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and then, three years ago, with lung cancer.  Despite surgery and treatment, her lung cancer returned and she again underwent treatment.

Happily, she’s been cancer-free now for two years. She credits a winning attitude with having an important role in her recovery. Throughout her life, Gail has learned a lot about cancer – about the importance of early detection, the harsh side-effects often associated with therapies, and the pain it causes when it takes a loved one.  She’s also been a long-time supporter of and volunteer for the cause.

“Cancer is a really personal, emotional rollercoaster kind-of-a-journey—and it touches all of us,” says the 25-year teacher and singer-songwriter who, for the past 15 years, has been the Terry Fox school run organizer at Massey-Vanier High School in Cowansville.  “So when there’s a breakthrough that opens endless possibilities to improving the quality of life and survival rates for people facing cancer, it really is a reason to celebrate.”

The “breakthrough” Gail is celebrating is the creation of the Digital Health and Discovery Platform (DHDP), a state-of-the-art Artificial Intelligence (AI) platform that will be able to sift through Big Data made up of clinical and genomic information from thousands of cancer patients across Canada to determine the unique genetic mutations that cause cancer in each patient and match them to the best possible treatment. She attended the launch of the new platform in Montreal in May where she spoke of its importance to patients and their families – and for survivors like her who want to live to age 93 and longer.

The DHDP, which is led by the Terry Fox Research Institute and AI partner imagia, was launched in May 2019 thanks to an investment of $49-million dollars from Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada as part of its Strategic Innovative Fund. The platform will help make precision medicine for cancer a reality, and will empower the Marathon of Hope Cancer Centres Network, a new initiative that will connect cancer research institutes across the country to help share data.

“For patients like me, these new initiatives will improve a doctor’s ability to identify predictors, to provide faster and more precise diagnoses, and to deliver treatments unique to each person’s cancer,” says Gail, a native Eastern Townshipper. “It is my hope that the impact of this platform will soon be felt in every oncologist’s examining room in Canada.”