November 26, 2019

Three internationally-recognized cancer researchers join OICR’s Investigator Awards Program

New OICR Investigator Awards recipients Drs. Tricia Cottrell, Anna Panchenko and Parisa Shooshtari.

Toronto – (November 26, 2019) Today, the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) announced three new Investigator Award (IA) recipients, reinforcing OICR’s commitment to recruit and retain world-class cancer researchers across Ontario.

The awards are for up to $350,000 per year for up to six years, providing stable research funding and salary support for recipients to establish their laboratories and build their research platforms within Ontario. They bring with them expertise in big data, machine learning, multi-omics analysis and immuno-oncology. The new recipients are:

  • Dr. Tricia Cottrell
    Clinician Scientist I Award
    Cottrell is a pathologist and immunologist from Johns Hopkins University who recently moved to Kingston to become an Assistant Professor at Queen’s University and Senior Investigator in the Canadian Cancer Trials Group. Cottrell focuses on mapping the interactions between the immune system and cancer cells as patients undergo treatment in order to develop new biomarkers that can better predict the course of a patient’s disease.
  • Dr. Anna Panchenko
    Senior Investigator Award  
    Panchenko was recently recruited to Kingston from the National Center for Biotechnology Information where she developed several methods and algorithms to study the molecular mechanisms behind cancer. Panchenko’s methods have been widely used by thousands of scientists from around the world to better understand the causes of cancer progression. She is now a Professor at Queen’s University and holds a Tier I Canada Research Chair.
  • Dr. Parisa Shooshtari
    Investigator I Award
    Shooshtari is an Assistant Professor at Western University in London, where she is establishing her first laboratory as an independent researcher. Joining the OICR community with experience from Yale University, the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids). Shooshtari brings unique expertise in developing computational, statistical and machine learning methods to understand the biology underlying complex diseases like cancer.

With their new appointments as OICR Investigators, Cottrell, Panchenko and Shooshtari join 25 other IA recipients as part of OICR’s collaborative cancer research community of more than 1,900 highly-qualified personnel across 23 Ontario institutes. Since its inception in 2006 the IA program has provided funding to recruit and keep world-class cancer researchers and clinician scientists in universities, hospitals and research centres across Ontario.

“Sustainable funding for talented scientists is critical to building a strong research ecosystem that will deliver the next wave of innovations and discoveries. The Investigator Award program is key to attracting and keeping top cancer researchers in Ontario,” says Dr. Christine Williams, Deputy Director and Interim Head, Clinical Translation at OICR. “We are particularly pleased that all three awards have been given to accomplished female scientists and are proud to offer our support as they establish their research programs in Ontario.”

“We are thrilled to welcome these highly-regarded researchers and look forward to their contributions to the health of Ontarians and the province’s cancer research sector,” says Hon. Ross Romano, Ontario’s Minister of Colleges and Universities. “Investing in top talent will allow Ontario to stay at the forefront of bio-medical research and realize the benefits of advancements in cancer prevention, diagnosis and treatment more quickly.”

As professors at their respective academic institutions, the three new IA recipients will take part in providing high-quality training to students in areas such as computer science and machine learning. Technological advancements and an evolving global economy are changing work in Ontario. These new, unique, cross-appointed positions will strengthen Ontario’s cancer research capacity while helping prepare students for careers in a rapidly-evolving knowledge-intensive industries.

For more information about the Investigator Award program, visit www.oicr.on.ca/investigator-awards.

October 21, 2019

Internationally-recognized computational biologist, Dr. Anna Panchenko joins OICR as Senior Investigator

Dr. Anna Panchenko. Tier I Canada Research Chair and OICR Senior Investigator

OICR welcomes Dr. Anna Panchenko, Tier I Canada Research Chair, to Ontario’s cancer research community as OICR’s newest Senior Investigator

Recently recruited to Canada as a Tier I Canada Research Chair and OICR Senior Investigator, Dr. Anna Panchenko has chosen to establish her lab at the Department of Pathology and Molecular Medicine, Queen’s University School of Medicine. OICR is proud to support Panchenko and her research endeavors with a Senior Investigator Award, which is given to researchers who have achieved national and international excellence and spent more than 10 years as independent investigators. 

Panchenko joins the local research community with nearly two decades of experience at the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Biotechnology Information. She is internationally recognized for her expertise in using computational biology to study cancer genomics and epigenetics, protein-protein interactions and nucleosome dynamics. Her methods have been widely used by thousands of scientists from around the world.

Here, she discusses her work and the opportunities that Ontario provides.

What is your research about?

Generally, there are two prongs to my research focus. The first is investigating cancer-related mechanisms. We’re looking at how mutations accrue – or accumulate – in cancer cells, which mutations are driving carcinogenesis and how these mutations may affect proteins and their interactions. The second is looking into how chromatin is dynamically regulated at a molecular level.

Both of these avenues are important to our understanding of cancer, and both areas of study need new computational methods and techniques. My group develops these methods and algorithms to better understand cancer progression to possibly come up with new targeted therapeutic strategies.

For example, some of my work focuses on identifying cancer-driving mutations – the changes in DNA that are at the root of cancers. Out of hundreds of point mutations, there are only a few that drive the disease. If we can find these mutations, we can discover new ways to predict the course of a patient’s disease, or new ways to treat the disease.

What excites you about your work?

I am excited by the beauty and complexity of biological systems. I am also excited by working with the dedicated, curious and smart people in our scientific community. My work isn’t just about making discoveries, it’s about designing methods to help other researchers to make their own discoveries.

What drew you to this field?

I grew up in Moscow and I was always interested in math and biology as a child. I was motivated to pursue science by my parents who are both scientists and the field of computational biology was a perfect combination of my two interests. Throughout my career, I met several other scientists who impressed me with their integrity, behavior and dedication to science. They inspired me to continue along this difficult but very gratifying path.

Why were you interested in coming to Canada? What’s next?

I love Canada, it feels like home. I’m now minutes away from Lake Ontario in a community of incredible scientists and clinicians. I feel like there are a lot of exciting opportunities here and I’m proud to be working in a high-caliber work environment. I appreciate the support from the government and I love the culture of collaboration. I’m excited to strengthen my collaborations with researchers at different departments of Queen’s University and across Ontario.

Read more about Dr. Anna Panchenko.