Dianne Miller calls the family and friends of the late Hong Kong physician, Chew Wei, the angel of British Columbia’s ovarian cancer research team, OVCARE.
“The generosity of Dr. Chew’s family and friends is beyond belief,” says Dr. Miller, Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology and co-founder of OVCARE. “They are like an angel to our team.”
Inspired by medical and scientific discoveries in BC that are changing the prevention, early detection and treatment of ovarian cancer around the world, Dr. Chew’s family and friends have honoured his determination to improve cancer outcomes by giving more than $8.5 million to the UBC Faculty of Medicine in the past five years.
Most recently, Dr. Chew’s wife Margaret created the Dr. Chew Wei MBBS [HK] FRCOG [ENG] Memorial Chair of Gynaecologic Oncology with a commitment of $4 million to the Faculty of Medicine. The endowment provides stable salary support for the Head of the Division of Gynaecologic Oncology.
The position is currently held by Dr. Miller, whose extensive clinical expertise in gynaecologic oncology has shaped clinical trials and collaborations with basic and translational scientists in BC for 25 years. Since OVCARE was formed in 2000, this unified and highly productive multidisciplinary team has made discoveries with immediate relevance for patients.
Building on OVCARE’s discovery that ovarian cancer is not a single disease but multiple, distinct disease types, the team discovered that the most common type of ovarian cancer begins in the lining of the fallopian tube. Immediately taking action on the study finding, OVCARE asked all gynaecologists in BC to remove the fallopian tube at every hysterectomy. This is one example of the type of innovation that makes BC the Canadian leader in ovarian cancer outcomes.
“Our accomplishments will only be as good as the team we build,” Dr. Miller says. “Dr. Chew’s family and friends have allowed us to build an accomplished ovarian cancer research team.”
Mrs. Chew’s gift has made other funding in the division available to support up-and-coming clinician-scientists such as Associate Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Jessica McAlpine, who conducts translational research focused on specific subtypes of ovarian and high-risk endometrial cancers.
“I always want to be a clinician. I love working with women of different ages and all the family dynamics, and I’m passionate about surgery,” Dr. McAlpine says. “But I want to contribute even more through research. We’ve been treating these diseases with many of the same drugs and procedures for a long time. I want to improve outcomes.”
One of Dr. McAlpine’s other mentors is another legacy of Dr. Chew’s mission—OVCARE Director and Professor of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine David Huntsman. He was named the Dr. Chew Wei MBBS [HK] FRCOG [ENG] Memorial Professor of Gynaecological Oncology in 2012, thanks to a $3 million gift from Dr. Chew’s family and friends.
Two years later, a $1.5 million gift from Dr. Chew’s family and friends created the Dr. Chew Wei MBBS [HK] FRCOG [ENG] Memorial Prize in Cancer Research, which recognizes a Canadian physician or scientist who has made a transformational, internationally recognized contribution to the fight against cancer.
With another $150,000 gift from Dr. Chew’s family and friends, new laboratory equipment was purchased for OVCARE. Mrs. Chew also donated her husband’s extensive inventory of gynaecologic surgical equipment, which Dr. Miller shared with local gynaecologists as part of her international work in Uganda.
Dr. Chew, who retired to Vancouver in 1988 and died in 2009, practiced obstetrics and gynaecology for 38 years and came to be dismayed by the prognosis for his patients who developed ovarian cancer. Though not a cancer specialist himself, he was determined to do what he could—even posthumously—to improve outcomes for women faced with ovarian cancer.