August 13, 2019

How do cancer patients help future cancer patients? This is Ron’s story

The Canadian Cancer Clinical Trials Network launches new pilot project at Windsor Regional Hospital to help patients understand their treatment options and access current clinical studies

In early 2012, Ron Truant, the former Board Chair of Windsor Regional Hospital (WRH), became a patient when he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.

Facing a disease with a dismal prognosis, Ron and his wife, Noella Truant, made an appointment for a second opinion at a hospital outside of Windsor. It was there that the Truants learned about an open clinical trial and secured the study’s last available spot.

Noella says not everyone is as fortunate as they were.

“We were lucky to gain access to an immunotherapy trial, which – in combination with a new chemotherapy treatment – gave us another four years together,” says Noella. “Throughout his own treatment, Ron was always thinking about others and realized there were many others who weren’t as fortunate as we were to find a trial. He knew that trials are complex and not everyone can navigate them, so he saw an opportunity to help.”

Noella and Ron Truant

Last year, only eight per cent of cancer patients in Ontario were recruited to clinical trials and in community hospitals, like WRH, that number drops to fewer than two per cent. These statistics, Noella says, indicate that patients are missing opportunities to gain access to new treatment options and contribute to clinical research.

Currently, each cancer centre in Ontario has a clinical research team that recruits patients for available trials at their respective sites but patients, like Ron, often want to explore all treatment options, including those at other nearby hospitals. These patients and their care givers are frequently left to research trials on their own through websites that may not contain current information or online trial databases that may be difficult to navigate. Even if a patient finds an available trial, understanding eligibility criteria requires specialized knowledge and advanced medical literacy.

Ron, a long-standing advocate for the quality of patient care, teamed up with Dr. Caroline Hamm, an oncologist at the WRH, to develop a better way for patients to navigate clinical trials.

“We want to make sure patients are offered the best treatments available for their individual needs, and that requires more than a database of trials,” says Hamm, who is also the Director of the Windsor Cancer Research Group. “There are many considerations that a patient weighs when deciding to participate in a trial and we need a more considerate approach to help patients with these decisions.”

With support from the Canadian Cancer Clinical Trials Network (3CTN), Hamm and the Truants designed a program where a designated clinical trials specialist – a Clinical Trials Navigator – would help patients find and understand the trials available. A patient could refer themselves to the navigator or they could be referred to the navigator by their oncologist. After reviewing the patient’s case and considering their preferences, the navigator could then identify available trials for which the patient is likely eligible, and help facilitate the connection between a patient and the study team.

Hamm, in Ron Truant’s legacy, launched the Clinical Trials Navigator pilot project at WRH in January and so far the project has since helped more than 40 patients explore trial options.

The process by which the Clinical Trials Navigator project helps patients find clinical trials that may be of benefit.

Youshaa El-Abed, the project’s navigator, sees the impact of this initiative on patients and their care givers first-hand.

“When a patient comes to us, they’re looking for a trial,” says El-Abed. “But even if there are no trials available for them, the patient – and their loved ones – gain reassurance that they have explored their options.”

Due to growing demand for clinical trial navigation services at other hospitals, the project is now open to receive patient referrals from across Ontario.

Hamm, who has been recognized for her patient advocacy in Windsor, hopes to expand this initiative to new sites as she has in the past for a cancer drug access coordinator program. In addition to helping current patients with cancer, Hamm sees the Clinical Trials Navigator project as a way to accelerate clinical research so patients can benefit from research sooner.

“If we can help patients access trials, we can help trials reach their accrual targets sooner – a win-win for patients and for local clinical research,” says Hamm. “A health system with accelerated clinical research allows us to attract more study sponsors, bringing leading edge treatment options to our hospitals. Ron envisioned this solution and we’re proud it’s in action today.”

Read more about the Clinical Trials Navigator project on 3CTN’s website

August 12, 2019

Dr. Rola Saleeb on her path to pathologist

Rola Saleeb
Dr. Rola Saleeb, Assistant Professor, Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology, University of Toronto.

OMPRN grantee and former Transformative Pathology Fellow discusses her recently-awarded faculty appointment with the University of Toronto

Despite research advances in identifying the subtypes of kidney cancer, treatment decisions are often based on the size of a patient’s tumour. Dr. Rola Saleeb, who has been studying kidney cancer for nearly a decade, thinks there’s a better way to make these decisions.

“Each month, more than 500 people are diagnosed with kidney cancer in Canada,” says Saleeb. “These individuals and their oncologists face tough decisions to make about their treatment options and I want to help make that decision easier.”

Saleeb, a former OICR Transformative Pathology Fellow and two-time Ontario Molecular Pathology Network (OMPRN) grantee, has recently become a certified pathologist and faculty member in the Department of Laboratory Medicine and Pathobiology at the University of Toronto.

Throughout her doctoral research, Saleeb developed a classification system that could help pathologists distinguish between aggressive kidney cancers and less aggressive cancers. She says this system could, one day, help spare patients from unnecessary surgery if they don’t have aggressive tumours. Additionally, she says classifying these tumours could enable the development of new therapies for these subtypes.

Now as a certified pathologist, Saleeb is the second Transformative Pathology Fellow to have been recruited to a faculty position. Both former fellows have committed to a career where research and development is central to their practice of pathology.

“Not all pathologists do research,” says Saleeb. “But for me, I feel like I can help more patients if I can help find solutions to unsolved problems.”

Saleeb is currently completing a validation study on her classification system. She looks forward to implementing the system at St. Michael’s Hospital and broadening her research to study the molecular origins of kidney cancers and new kidney cancer prevention strategies.

Read more about OMPRN here or find current pathology funding opportunities here.

July 30, 2019

Canadian Government-Sponsored Collaboration Targets Standardized Cancer Testing

Genome Canada, Ontario Institute for Cancer Research and Thermo Fisher Scientific to focus on pancreatic, prostate and breast cancer

CARLSBAD, Calif. – (July 30, 2019)Genome Canada, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and Thermo Fisher Scientific are collaborating to develop a complete solution of targeted next generation sequencing (NGS) assays and analysis software designed to more effectively assess – and eventually improve management of – pancreatic, prostate and breast cancer.  

The $6 million, three-year initiative aims to standardize advanced molecular profiling in these disease areas and make the assays commercially available globally. Focusing on rapid genomic diagnostics in pancreatic cancer and targeting treatment in breast and prostate cancers, the partnership builds on previous clinical research between OICR and Thermo Fisher and will inform development of three assays that will be utilized to stratify patients in clinical trials in Ontario and other jurisdictions.

“By supporting research and clinical trials, Genome Canada is helping to put more of Ontario’s innovative cancer diagnostics research into clinical use,” said Dr. John Bartlett, program director, diagnostic development at OICR. “This project has the potential to springboard advanced next-generation sequencing to routine clinical use in Ontario and across Canada.”

Breast and prostate cancer are among the most common types of cancer in Canada, and the country’s five-year net survival rate for pancreatic cancer is only 8 percent. However, there is clear evidence that patient outcomes can be improved with NGS-based testing strategies. A recent U.S. health economics study has shown that advanced cancer patients who received treatment based on NGS testing results experienced double the length of progression-free survival without increasing health care costs.1

While some solutions analyze only DNA sequences, the new targeted NGS assays will provide comprehensive genomic profiles by simultaneously assessing DNA and expression signatures from RNA to provide significantly more insight into driver mutations. The OICR/Thermo Fisher team will leverage this advantage by supplementing the new assays with unique DNA/RNA stratification biomarkers – specific to pancreatic, prostate and breast cancer – previously qualified by OICR translational researchers.

The collaboration is partly funded with a grant from Genome Canada through the Genomic Applications Partnership Program (GAPP). Genome Canada will contribute $2 million, the highest possible level of funding support, with the balance split between OICR and Thermo Fisher, which will cover development costs and validation activities.

Previous research collaborations led by OICR and Thermo Fisher are already well on their way to impacting cancer treatment in the future. Of particular note is a 2016 study designed to identify mutations and copy number variation changes in breast cancer, and clinical research utilizing the Oncomine Comprehensive Assay, which also supports both the National Cancer Institute’s Adult and Pediatric MATCH trials in the United States.

“OICR is a leader in clinical research, with extensive clinical trials in progress to improve care for patients with pancreatic, prostate and breast cancer,” said Jeff Smith, global lead of NGS precision medicine initiatives, clinical NGS and oncology for Thermo Fisher Scientific. “When OICR approached our team with the idea for this project, we saw it as another exciting for opportunity to bring Thermo Fisher’s proven Ion Torrent technology to clinical laboratories across Canada and to contribute to future improvement of patient care.”

1 “A Retrospective Analysis of Precision Medicine Outcomes in Patients With Advanced Cancer Reveals Improved Progression- Free Survival Without Increased Health Care Costs,” Journal of Oncology Practice, Vol 13, Issue 2, February 2017

July 29, 2019

Computational dissection: What can we learn from the cells around cancer cells?

OICR researcher looks into what non-tumour cells can tell us about breast cancer

Natalie Fox
Natalie Fox, OICR

When a biopsy is drawn from a patient, it consists of a mix of cancerous and healthy cells, like fat and blood cells. Researchers are often interested in diseased cells, but without looking into the surrounding tissue, they could be missing part of the story.

Natalie Fox, a PhD candidate at OICR, is investigating what we can learn from the cells surrounding cancer cells.

“When we look into a patient sample computationally, we see distorted signals because of overlapping data from many different types of cells,” says Fox. “We need to dissect the parts we want to study, but instead of using a knife or a laser, we use computers.”

Fox and collaborators have analyzed nearly 1800 tumour samples from patients with breast cancer, examining the transcriptome of tumour cells and the cells around tumours – or the tumour’s microenvironment.

Her study, recently published in Nature Communications, reveals the landscape of transcriptomic interactions between breast cancers and their microenvironments. Her study also sheds light on associations between these transcriptomes and patient survival, gene mutations and breast cancer subtypes.

“We now have a clearer picture that tells us more about the breast microenvironment than we’ve known before,” Fox says. “Bit by bit, we’ve analyzed and scrutinized these data, then assembled these bits into a comprehensive landscape.”

Fox found that mutations in cancer genes such as CDH1 and TP53 are associated with changes in the transcriptome of the tumour’s microenvironment. She says more research is needed to clarify the biologic rationale behind her observations, but her work has set the stage for researchers to do so.

“Above all else, this work demonstrates an important approach for improving our understanding of associations between the tumour and the microenvironment,” Fox says. “We presented a framework that others can use to analyze the tumour microenvironment in their cancer of interest and potentially develop new biomarkers for predicting cancer patient outcomes.”

July 24, 2019

OICR funding for Ontario drug discovery projects will accelerate development of new cancer therapies

The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) has selected two new Late Accelerator projects to receive support through its Cancer Therapeutics Innovation Pipeline (CTIP) initiative. The projects, detailed below, will each receive up to $250,000 per year, for up to two years, to advance the development of drug candidate molecules. The projects were selected by an international expert review panel from 18 applications.

By joining the CTIP portfolio, these projects will receive more than just financial support – they will also benefit from the guidance of the Therapeutics Pipeline Advisory Committee, a group of industry and academic experts that provides advice on the scientific and strategic direction of CTIP projects.

“CTIP projects have great potential to improve treatment for patients, promote scientific collaboration and drive investment to Ontario’s biomedical research sector,” says Dr. Christine Williams, OICR’s Deputy Director and Head of Therapeutic Innovation. “These new projects are great examples of the innovative cancer therapeutics research happening in our province. We are excited to add them to CTIP’s portfolio of promising drug candidates and look forward to their progress.”

Funded projects

Identification of kinase inhibitors to block the tumour-promoting activity of YAP/TAZ for cancer therapeutics

Liliana Attisano, Principal Investigator, University of Toronto

Rima Al-awar, Principal Investigator, OICR

Frank Sicheri, Co-investigator, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute

Jeff Wrana, Co-investigator, Lunenfeld-Tanenbaum Research Institute

David Uehling, Co-investigator, OICR

Richard Marcellus, Co-investigator, OICR

Methvin Isaac, Co-investigator, OICR

The highly conserved Hippo pathway is a key regulator of cell and tissue growth. Virtually all solid tumours display pathway disruptions, which drive cancer initiation and progression. Mutations in pathway components are rare, making it unclear how to target the pathway for cancer treatment. This research group has shown that certain kinases are key regulators of the pathway that promotes tumorigenicity and observed that diverse human cancers display elevated levels of these kinases. Kinases are highly amenable to the development of targeted inhibitors; therefore, this project will identify potent and specific inhibitors with the long-term goal of establishing novel cancer therapeutics.

Development of kinase inhibitors for ovarian cancer: A novel first in-class immune-oncology therapeutic agent targeting tumor intrinsic stress states

Rob Rottapel, Principal Investigator, Princess Margaret Cancer
Centre

Tracy McGaha, Principal Investigator, Princess Margaret Cancer
Centre

Rima Al-awar, Principal Investigator, OICR

Methvin Isaac, Co-investigator, OICR

David Uehling, Co-investigator, OICR

Richard Marcellus, Co-investigator, OICR

Ahmed Aman, Co-investigator, OICR

The development of new cancer immune therapeutics has triggered a revolution with the recent advent of diverse strategies that engage the patient’s immune system. This research group has identified a novel kinase target that has the unique property of being both an emergent essential gene in high-grade serous ovarian cancer and a repressor of the innate and adaptive immune system. Additionally, they have demonstrated that target inhibition sensitizes cancer cells to cisplatin – a standard of care chemotherapy drug. This project will work to develop a “first-in-class” dual-action, anti-tumour and immune-oncology kinase inhibitors for ovarian cancer and potentially other cancer types.

July 23, 2019

Blood samples, biostatistics and a fresh perspective: The makings of a cancer prediction machine

Jordyn Walton and David Soave
Jordyn Walton and Dr. David Soave

Biostatistics Training Initiative (BTI) alumnus brings on new BTI trainee to study Canada’s largest population health dataset using today’s top technologies

Recently, circulating tumour DNA (ctDNA) – DNA released from cancer cells that freely circulates in the blood – has garnered much attention not only as an alternative to traditional tissue biopsies, but as a potential blood-based biomarker for early cancer diagnosis.

The ability to detect the earliest blood-borne traces of cancer largely rests in our ability to determine which molecular markers indicate that a cancer is developing – or which patterns in ctDNA can predict whether a cancer will grow. Dr. David Soave sees this as a mathematical challenge that, if solved, could have huge impact for better predicting and diagnosing a wide variety of cancers.

“To find cancer earlier or predict who will develop the disease, we need to carefully compare human samples from those who will develop cancer and samples from those who won’t,” Soave, an Assistant Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University and OICR Associate, says. “This type of challenge requires new statistical models, methods and computational techniques that can decipher large, complex and high-dimensional data.”

Last year, the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) unified the data from several provincial longitudinal health studies into a national cohort consisting of more than 325,000 participants who are voluntarily donating their health and biologic samples to research. As some CPTP participants will develop disease and others will not, this dataset provides an unprecedented resource for researchers like Soave to discover the earliest traces of cancer that appear several months to years prior to an initial diagnosis.

Continue reading – Blood samples, biostatistics and a fresh perspective: The makings of a cancer prediction machine

July 22, 2019

OICR Genomics: What’s next?

Trevor Pugh, OICR’s new Director of Genomics, talks about what’s happening in the OICR Genomics Platform.

July 17, 2019

Ten years, 330,000+ Canadians: CPTP connects participants from coast to coast with shared goal of a healthier future

After losing her aunt to breast cancer, Krista felt powerless and wanted to help make a difference.

Marc felt empowered when he started taking a more active role in his health following his sleep apnea diagnosis.

Her Indigenous family roots motivated Sandra to get involved since she thought her genetic information might be particularly useful to researchers.

Their stories are unique, but Krista, Marc and Sandra actually have a lot in common. They’re three of the more than 330,000 participants in the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) who share a vision of a healthier Canada.

By connecting six regional cohorts across nine provinces, the CPTP is the largest data collection of its kind in Canadian history. Hosted by the University of Toronto, the CPTP allows researchers to explore how genetics, environment, lifestyle and behaviour interact and contribute to the development of cancer and other chronic diseases.

Krista Osborne
Alberta’s Tomorrow Project

When Krista Osborne of St. Albert, Alberta found out about her aunt’s breast cancer, she donated her long hair to make wigs, but she wanted to do more.

“I heard about Alberta’s Tomorrow Project in the news and knew that I wanted to take part and help researchers in a personal way. I wanted my life to have some value to later generations,” said Osborne, who joined Alberta’s Tomorrow Project in 2011.

Osborne, like most CPTP participants, has lived experience with cancer or another chronic illness. In fact, cancer is the leading cause of death in Canada with one in two Canadians affected during their lifetime.

“Canadians can have a direct impact on health research through the project and we’re tremendously grateful for participants’ time and investment,” said Dr. Philip Awadalla, National Scientific Director of the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project.

“The CPTP has united Canadians from coast to coast over the last decade, creating a living population laboratory that will improve our understanding of disease risk factors and unlock the mysteries of cancer and other chronic diseases,” said Awadalla, who is also Executive Scientific Director of the Ontario Health Study (OHS) and principal investigator of Genome Canada’s Canadian Data Integration Centre.

Unlocking a mystery is exactly how Marc André Sirois felt when he was diagnosed with sleep apnea in September 2016.

“I had concerns about my sleep quality and was asked to participate in a sleep study. I wore the monitor and after one month, I received some negative results. Bad sleeping habits can negatively impact your health in so many ways,” said Sirois, an OHS participant who lives in Ottawa.

Sandra Slobodian
BC Generations Project

Sandra Slobodian agrees that mega-data studies like CPTP can uncover hidden solutions to health issues, which she believes is important for all Canadians, including Indigenous peoples.

“I think First Nations people are a great source of generational information, but may be wary of participating in research projects because many have been over studied, abused by government policies and may not trust the process,” said Slobodian, who lives in Esquimalt, British Columbia and joined the BC Generations Project in 2008.

There are close to 8,000 self-reported Indigenous participants in the CPTP and Awadalla is encouraging Indigenous researchers to utilize the platform for a variety of Indigenous-led projects.

Trust is critical, not only for Indigenous participants, but for everyone. And with more than one billion pieces of health information, the size and scope of CPTP’s dataset is enormous. Privacy and protection of participant data is absolutely critical, underlining the importance of CPTP’s partnership with the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, a globally recognized institute in genomic and clinical data storage expertise.

Marc Sirois
Ontario Health Study

As a lawyer, Sirois understands how difficult trust can be in today’s world, but his message to Canadians about the CPTP is simple:

“I’d say trust the scientific process. CPTP scientists are doing good work that’s making a difference on health and it’s empowering to be a part of that process,” said Sirois.

“We need to stick with CPTP for the long term to make an impact, and in the meantime, let’s enjoy the baby steps and small wins.”

Learn more about seven CPTP participants, including their personal stories with cancer or chronic disease, why they joined the study, and how they’d improve health care in their communities.


Manitoba is the only province currently recruiting new participants via the Manitoba Tomorrow Project.


The original story was originally published by the  Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project

July 17, 2019

New research unfolds the DNA “origami” behind brain cancers

Collaborative research group maps the three-dimensional genomic structure of glioblastoma and discovers a new therapeutic strategy to eliminate cells at the roots of these brain tumours

Current treatment for glioblastoma – the most common type of malignant brain cancer in adults – is often palliative, but new research approaches have pointed to new promising therapeutic strategies.

A collaborative study, recently published in Genome Research, has mapped the three-dimensional configuration of the genome in glioblastoma and discovered a new way to target glioblastoma stem cells – the self-renewing cells that are thought to be the root cause of tumour recurrence.

The research group integrated three-dimensional genome maps of glioblastoma with other chromatin and transcriptional datasets to describe the mechanisms regulating gene expression and detail the mechanisms that are specific to glioblastoma stem cells. They are one of the first groups in the world to perform three-dimensional genomic analyses in patient-derived tumour samples.

Dr. Mathieu Lupien

“The 3D configuration of the genome has garnered much attention over the last decade as a complex, dynamic and crucial feature of gene regulation,” says Dr. Mathieu Lupien, Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, OICR Investigator and co-author of the study. “Looking at how the genome is folded and sets contacts between regions tens to thousands of kilobases apart allowed us to find a new way to potentially tackle glioblastoma.”

Through their study, the group discovered that CD276 – a gene which is normally involved with repressing immune responses – has a very important role in maintaining stem-cell-like properties in glioblastoma stem cells. Further, they showed that targeting CD276 may be an effective new strategy to kill cancer stem cells in these tumours.

Lupien adds that advancements in three-dimensional genomics can only be made through collaborative efforts, like this initiative, which was enabled by OICR through Stand Up 2 Cancer Canada Cancer Stem Cell Dream Team, OICR’s Brain Cancer Translational Research Initiative and other funding initiatives.

“This research was fueled by an impressive community of scientists in the area who are committed to finding new solutions for patients with brain cancer,” Lupien says. “Our findings have emphasized the significance of three-dimensional architectures in genomic studies and the need to further develop related methodologies to make sense of this intricacies.”

Senior author of the study, Dr. Marco Gallo will continue to investigate CD276 as a potential therapeutic target for glioblastoma. He plans to further delineate the architecture of these cancer stem cells to identify more new strategies to tackle brain tumours.

Dr. Marco Gallo

“A key problem with current glioblastoma treatments is that they mostly kill proliferating cells, whereas we know that glioblastoma stem cells are slow-cycling, or dormant. Markers like CD276 can potentially be targeted with immunotherapy approaches, which could be an effective way of killing cancer stem cells, irrespective of how slowly they proliferate,” says Gallo, who is an Assistant Professor at the University of Calgary. “Being able to kill cancer stem cells in glioblastoma could have strong implications for our ability to prevent relapses.”

Read more about OICR’s Brain Cancer Translational Research Initiative on oicr.on.ca or read about the Initiative’s current findings on OICR News.

July 3, 2019

Five fellows, four labs, three years, two countries, and a generous donation

Joesph Lebovic and the fellows


The Lebovic Fellowship program connects scientists in Israel and Ontario, leading to the validation of a new drug candidate for leukemia and the optimization of a new potential cancer vaccine

Three years ago, the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) received a donation from Joseph and Wolf Lebovic – two brothers who are Holocaust survivors, Canadian immigrants, avid philanthropists and recently-appointed Members of the Order of Canada. Their vision was to strengthen collaboration between the outstanding researchers in Israel and those in Ontario to accelerate cancer research.

They created the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Fellowship Program, which paired together laboratories specializing in complementary subjects. The Program’s first round of projects officially came to a successful close today and here we recognize the progress made thanks to the generous donation of the Lebovic brothers.

Developing a drug for leukemia

Israel lead researcher: Dr. Yinon Ben-Neriah, IMRIC
Israel fellows: Waleed Minzel and Eric Hung, PhD Candidates, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Ontario lead researcher: Dr. John Dick, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre (PMCC)
Ontario fellow: Dr. Laura Garcia-Prat, Postdoctoral Fellow, PMCC

Ben-Neriah’s lab in Israel had developed a new compound and showed it may be a valuable anti-leukemia drug, but they couldn’t explain why the drug was only effective in animal models that had strong immune systems. Understanding the relationship between the drug and the immune system would allow them to validate which leukemia subtypes would respond to their therapeutic approach.

John Dick’s lab had developed the gold standard for evaluating the efficacy of leukemia drugs in animal models using sophisticated patient-derived xenograft mouse models. Through this fellowship, the Ben-Neriah Lab teamed up with the Dick lab to learn from their expertise and gain insights into their experimental models.

Continue reading – Five fellows, four labs, three years, two countries, and a generous donation

July 3, 2019

Bridges built between Israel and Canada thanks to philanthropic donation from Joseph and Wolf Lebovic

Fellows and Lebovic

TORONTO (July 3, 2019) – The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR), the Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and the Canadian Friends of Hebrew University (CFHU) today honour the successful conclusion of the first round of the Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Cancer Genomics and Immunity Fellowship Program, a cross-continent multidisciplinary collaboration between experts in cancer research. The Program forged two new partnerships between labs in Canada and Israel and provided a unique training opportunity for early career researchers in both countries. These collaborations led to the development of a new potential cancer-killing virus and a new drug candidate for leukemia.

Fellowships were awarded to Adrian Pelin from the lab of Dr. John Bell at The Ottawa Hospital Research Institute, in Ottawa, Ontario and Yoav Charpak Amikam from the lab of Dr. Ofer Mandelboim at IMRIC in Jerusalem, Israel. The collaboration improved the specificity and immune-triggering abilities of the potential oncolytic Vaccinia virus.

Another pair of fellowships were awarded to Dr. Laura Garcia-Prat from the lab of Dr. John Dick at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, in Toronto, Ontario and Waleed Minzel and Eric Hung from the lab of Dr. Yinon Ben-Neriah at IMRIC. This partnership enabled the development of leukemia xenograft models to help validate the efficacy of a new drug candidate, as recently published in the scientific journal Cell.  

The Lebovic Fellowship Program was established by a philanthropic donation provided to IMRIC by Joseph and Wolf Lebovic – two brothers who survived the Holocaust, immigrated to Canada and have recently been appointed as Members of the Order of Canada for their contributions to the Toronto community.

“We’d like to congratulate the fellows today on their progress which was made possible by the generous support of Joseph and Wolf Lebovic. The funding provided by the Lebovic brothers allowed us to create a platform for Ontario scientists to establish collaborations with researchers in Israel and we look forward to strengthening this platform for future collaborative work,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director of OICR.

“We congratulate the fellows today on their achievements during this first round of the program. IMRIC is proud to continue our collaboration with an institute as distinguished as OICR, supported by the inspiring philanthropy of Joseph and Wolf Lebovic,” says Prof. Haya Lorberboum-Galski, Chairman of IMRIC. “We feel that this collaboration between top Canadian and Israeli researchers will surely lead to significant and game-changing advances in the world arena.”

“Thanks to the vision and generosity of Joseph and Wolf Lebovic, they have been instrumental in creating an international collaboration that will continue to strengthen Israel-Canada connections while benefitting humankind,” says Rami Kleinmann, CEO and President of Canadian Friends of Hebrew University. “CFHU is grateful for their continuing and dedicated support.”

Applications for the second round of The Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Cancer Genomics and Immunity Fellowship Program are now being accepted.

Continue reading – Bridges built between Israel and Canada thanks to philanthropic donation from Joseph and Wolf Lebovic

June 26, 2019

Patterns in pancreatic cancer samples lead to better prognostic power

Dr. Sangeetha Kalimuthu, gastrointestinal pathologist at the University Health Network, works in her lab.
Dr. Sangeetha N Kalimuthu, gastrointestinal pathologist at the University Health Network, works in her lab. (Photo: UHN)

University Health Network pathologist teams up with OICR researchers to develop an improved pancreatic cancer classification test that can better predict the severity of the disease

Under a microscope, pancreatic cancer often looks like a haphazard collection of cells with various shapes and sizes, but Dr. Sangeetha N Kalimuthu saw something different.

She had been analyzing hundreds of pancreas resections, which are classified using the current three-tiered staging system – well, moderate and poor – but found that the vast majority of cases fell into the moderate category, offering little information to physicians about how best to treat these patients.

N Kalimuthu, a gastrointestinal pathologist at the University Health Network (UHN), noticed that certain patterns in cell shape matched the molecular profile of tumours with poorer survival for patients. She teamed up with Drs. Runjan Chetty and Steven Gallinger at UHN to see if what she noticed was true. Gallinger is Director of OICR’s PanCuRx Translational Research Initiative.

In a study recently published in Gut BMJ, the study group assessed more than 800 pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC) slides and developed an improved classification method that could help differentiate patients with the most aggressive tumours.

“Our aim was to revise and reappraise the current grading system to find features that correlated with these molecular subtypes,” says N Kalimuthu. 

By linking molecular profiles of tumours with their appearance, N Kalimuthu was able to develop a classification method that can be easily integrated into current pathology laboratories.

“Any pathologist in any part of the world can do this,” says N Kalimuthu. “It’s the bread and butter of what pathologists do. It’s fast, cheap and accessible.”

N Kalimuthu also says that this method can be augmented using deep learning methods to reduce turn-around times and variability from one pathology laboratory to another.

“Pathologists have had a long, rich history in their vital roles to diagnose and stage pancreas cancer,” says Gallinger, who is co-author of the publication. “This study is an elegant demonstration of the potential of personalized medicine, with the promise of improved outcomes for our patients.”

Read the full UHN News story here.

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