December 2, 2020
Researchers at the University of Guelph and McMaster University create combination immunotherapy approach to treat breast tumours and other cancers
Over the last few decades, scientists have made significant progress in harnessing the immune system to treat cancers. Despite these advances, many types of cancer can still evade the immune system and current immunotherapies. Dr. Sam Workenhe is developing better treatment options for patients with these hard-to-treat diseases.
In his recent study, published in Nature Communications Biology, Workenhe and collaborators at the University of Guelph and McMaster University discovered a new combination immunotherapy approach for breast tumours and other cancers. Their approach leverages cancer-killing viruses, called oncolytic viruses, and chemotherapy to trigger tumour inflammation, stimulating the body’s immune system to control tumour growth. Their combination leveraged the oncolytic virus, oHSV-1, and the chemotherapy agent, Mitomycin-C.
The research team demonstrated the effectiveness of this treatment approach in mouse models of breast cancer. They found that that mice treated with this combination therapy lived approximately two months longer than untreated ones – a significant difference relative to the short lifespan of these mouse models.
“Simply put, we wake up the immune system,” says Workenhe, Assistant Professor at the University of Guelph’s Ontario Veterinary College and an OICR Joseph and Wolf Lebovic Fellowship Program awardee. “Our study proves that aggressive tumours without immune cells can be made to render an immune response. Understanding how to design treatments that can potentially activate the immune system against cancer can revolutionize the current standards of care.”
Additionally, the study delineated the anticancer mechanisms of their approach, detailing how each element kickstarts an immune response against the tumours. Workenhe, who is a trained veterinarian and a virologist, is now applying these findings to further study immune responses and inflammatory cell death in tumours.
“A lot of people are excited about engineering viruses to inflame the tumour and improve cancer treatment,” says Workenhe. “The implications of these findings for human cancer therapy may be huge.”
This post was adapted from a University of Guelph news story.
October 4, 2019
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
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
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
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