October 4, 2019

Meet our new Lebovic Fellows

OICR is proud to announce two new partnerships between research trainees in Ontario and collaborators in Israel, supported by Joseph and Wolf Lebovic.

The Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Fellowship Program, a joint initiative between the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Institute for Medical Research Israel-Canada (IMRIC) and OICR, is supporting two new partnerships between local cancer researchers and those in Israel.

This is the second round of this fellowship program that aims to strengthen collaboration across the two countries by pairing trainees in complementary areas of expertise. Both projects focus on the interaction between tumours and the immune system to develop new and more effective therapeutic strategies for cancer.

Over the next two years, the new fellows will develop their mutually-beneficial partnerships, allowing them to further their research while building their collaboration skills.

“We are investing in talented trainees with the potential to make a significant impact in cancer research, while fostering international collaboration,” says Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi, President and Scientific Director of OICR. “We cannot wait to see what they will accomplish in the years to come.”


Teaming up to take on a new approach

Principal Investigator in Israel: Dr. Lior Nissim, Assistant Professor at IMRIC
Fellow: Natella Buketov, Master of Science student at IMRIC

Principal Investigator in Ontario: Dr. Samuel Workenhe, Assistant Professor at McMaster University
Fellow: Jeffrey Wei, Master of Science student at McMaster University

Dr. Samuel Workenhe and Jeffrey Wei.

Developing viruses that alarm the immune system to fight against cancer is a sought after goal around the world. A common challenge with this approach is that cancer cells can often “shut off” or silence these alarms, and thus, the cancer cells remain undetectable to the immune system.

Workenhe and Nissim hypothesize that synthetic molecules – sequences of DNA that cannot be found in nature – could be used to overcome this challenge and effectively trigger an immune response against cancer cells.

Through the Lebovic Fellowship, these two research groups have teamed up to explore the possibility of using viruses, developed by the Workenhe Lab, to deliver synthetic molecules, developed by the Nissim Lab, to cancer cells. Over the next two years, they will work to optimize their platforms, develop the viruses and test them in infected cell cultures and tumour-bearing mice.

“There’s a lot of drive behind this project,” says Workenhe. “We both want to find a way to make this work and overcome the challenges of viral immunotherapies together.”


Partnering to accelerate research

Principal Investigator in Israel: Dr. Sheera Adar, Senior Lecturer at IMRIC
Fellow: Dr. Pooja Chauhan, Postdoctoral Fellow at IMRIC

Principal Investigator in Ontario: Dr. Carolina Ilkow, Scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and Assistant Professor at the University of Ottawa
Fellow: Emily Brown, Master of Science student at Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa

Emily Brown and Dr. Carolina Ilkow.

The Adar Lab and the Ilkow Lab are both interested in the SWI/SNF complex – a cellular machine that affects how our DNA is packaged and coiled.

The Adar Lab is working to better understand how SWI/SNF affects DNA damage repair in cancer cells. The Ilkow Lab is working to better understand how SWI/SNF can be altered to improve immunotherapies. They recognized that they can study SWI/SNF better together.

With the support of the Lebovic Fellowship, these groups are partnering to investigate SWI/SNF with two different approaches while sharing common methods, resources and expertise. By doing so, the researchers expect to reduce duplicative efforts and accelerate both projects. “I’m excited to be involved in the field of cancer immunotherapy,” says Brown. “Seeing that your work has direct impact is really rewarding, and I’m excited to help contribute to such an innovative approach.”

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

May 21, 2019

Activating the immune system to fight cancer

Dr. Brigitte Thériault, a Senior Research Scientist at OICR, discusses the work of the Drug Discovery team to develop new drugs that awaken the body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells.

November 8, 2018

Gene signature discovery may predict response to immune therapy

Dr. Daniel De Carvalho discusses his study published in Nature Communications, which found a gene signature biomarker that may help predict which patients will respond to immune therapy.

Continue reading – Gene signature discovery may predict response to immune therapy

November 6, 2018

Discovering new ways to deploy the immune system against hidden cancers

Superresolution image of a group of killer T cells (green and red) surrounding a cancer cell (blue, center). When a killer T cell makes contact with a target cell, the killer cell attaches and spreads over the dangerous target. The killer cell then uses special chemicals housed in vesicles (red) to deliver the killing blow.

Researchers studying ovarian cancer identify adapter protein 3BP2 as a key component of immune system function and a powerful tool that could be used to activate the immune system against hidden tumour cells.

Continue reading – Discovering new ways to deploy the immune system against hidden cancers

August 16, 2018

Researchers find common cell process key to therapy resistance

Ottawa researchers discover a new way to make cancer cells more susceptible to virus-based therapies

Over the past decade, researchers have made significant progress in designing oncolytic viruses (OVs) – viruses that destroy cancer cells while leaving healthy tissue unharmed. However, some cancer cells are resistant to this type of therapy and their resistance mechanisms remain poorly understood.

Researchers at the The Ottawa Hospital and University of Ottawa, under the leadership of Dr. Carolina Ilkow, have discovered that a common cellular mechanism, RNAi, allows cancer cells to fight back against cancer-fighting viruses. Their findings, recently published in the Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer, show that blocking RNAi processes in tumours can make cancer cells more susceptible to OVs.

Continue reading – Researchers find common cell process key to therapy resistance

July 27, 2018

BioLab helps scientists get the most out of Ontario’s cancer research infrastructure

A technician works in OICR pathology lab

Over the past decade, OICR’s laboratories have procured state-of-the-art equipment and developed leading-edge technologies to help answer pressing cancer research questions. The effective and proper use of advanced laboratory tools is dependent on specialized knowledge and skills on the part of the operator. OICR’s platform for laboratory training, BioLab, is ensuring that Ontario’s cancer researchers have the knowledge they need to explore the full potential of some of the province’s most advanced cancer research equipment.

Continue reading – BioLab helps scientists get the most out of Ontario’s cancer research infrastructure

June 14, 2018

New OICR President and Scientific Director comments on breakthrough in breast cancer T-cell immunotherapy

Dr. Laszlo Radvanyi

For the first time, a patient’s late-stage breast cancer has been successfully treated with T-cell immunotherapy. This cutting-edge approach, which is currently in clinical trials in the U.S., modified the patient’s naturally-occurring immune cells to fight her tumours that had spread throughout her body. The patient has been cancer free for the past two years and her remarkable tumour regression represents the potential impact of this new immunotherapeutic approach.

Continue reading – New OICR President and Scientific Director comments on breakthrough in breast cancer T-cell immunotherapy

June 13, 2018

Viral protein identified as one of the main drivers of virus-induced stomach cancers

The Epstein Barr virus in false Colour

Some common pathogens, like the Epstein-Barr virus (EBV), can turn healthy cells into cancer cells, but it is not well understood how they do so. Better understanding how such pathogens work allows researchers to find new ways to target the pathogen’s disease-causing mechanisms and ultimately find new treatments for certain virus-induced cancers.

Dr. Ivan Borozan, from Dr. Vincent Ferretti’s Lab at OICR, and Prof. Lori Frappier at the University of Toronto are working together to better understand EBV and how it triggers the transformation of normal cells to cancerous cells, also known as oncogenesis. Together, they have identified that a key protein expressed by EBV, BKRF4, is one of the likely drivers behind EBV-induced stomach cancers.

Continue reading – Viral protein identified as one of the main drivers of virus-induced stomach cancers

May 17, 2018

Combination of erectile dysfunction drugs and flu vaccine may help kill remaining cancer after surgery

A flu vaccine sits on top of packages of erectile dysfunction drugs

A remarkable study led by Dr. Rebecca Auer from The Ottawa Hospital (TOH) shows that the unlikely combination of erectile dysfunction drugs and the flu vaccine may boost the immune system’s ability to clean up cancer cells left behind after surgery. This method demonstrated promising results in a mouse model, where it reduced the spread of cancer following surgery by 90 per cent. Now the approach will be tested in a first-of-its-kind clinical trial involving 24 patients at TOH.

Continue reading – Combination of erectile dysfunction drugs and flu vaccine may help kill remaining cancer after surgery

January 19, 2018

Scientists create method to sensitize triple-negative breast cancer to common immunotherapy

Drs. Marie-Claude Bourgeois-Daigneault and John Bell

Immunotherapy, which boosts the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells, has shown remarkable promise in treating many types of cancer. Now researchers have found a way to use immunotherapy against triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC), one of the most lethal forms of breast cancer. Previously, TNBC was resistant to immune checkpoint inhibitors, a common class of immunotherapies. Using a new strategy, the scientists achieved a cure rate of up to 90 per cent in mouse models.

Continue reading – Scientists create method to sensitize triple-negative breast cancer to common immunotherapy

January 4, 2018

Study shows virus-boosted immunotherapy can be effective against aggressive breast cancer

The Maraba virus is seen under an electron microscope

Researchers at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa have found that a combination of two immunotherapies – oncolytic viruses and checkpoint inhibitors – was successful in treating triple-negative breast cancer in mouse models. Triple-negative breast cancer is the most aggressive and hard-to-treat form of the disease.

Continue reading – Study shows virus-boosted immunotherapy can be effective against aggressive breast cancer

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