September 3, 2019

OICR welcomes new investigator, Dr. Parisa Shooshtari

Dr. Parisa Shooshtari, OICR Investigator and Assistant Professor in the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University
Dr. Parisa Shooshtari, OICR Investigator and Assistant Professor in the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University.

OICR is proud to welcome Dr. Parisa Shooshtari as an OICR Investigator.

Shooshtari specializes in developing computational, statistical and machine learning methods to understand the biological mechanisms underlying complex diseases, like cancer and autoimmune conditions. She is interested in uncovering how genes are dysregulated in complex diseases by integrating multiple data types and applying machine learning methods to analyze single-sell sequencing data.

Of her many achievements, Shooshtari developed a computational pipeline to uniformly process more than 800 epigenomic data samples from different international consortia. She then built and led a team that developed a web-interface and an interactive genome-browser to make the database publicly available to download and explore.

Shooshtari joins the OICR community with research experience from Yale University and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. She also served as a Research Associate with the Centre for Computational Medicine at the Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids).

Shooshtari recently became an Assistant Professor in the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry at Western University, where she officially began her career as an independent researcher. Here, Shooshtari discusses her commitment to collaboration and her transition to professorship.

Your work spans multiple disease areas from autoimmune diseases to cancer, what do these diseases have in common? Is there a specific disease that you’re more interested in?

My work focuses on complex diseases, where instead of one gene causing the disease, there are sometimes tens or hundreds of genes working together to give rise to an ailment.

When it comes to complex diseases, we also know that there are multiple factors that we need to consider, including genetics, epigenetics and environmental factors. We live in an era where we have rich datasets with many different types of data. Each of these data types sheds light upon a different aspect of the disease mechanism, but we need to integrate these data types to gain a comprehensive understanding of how a complex disease works.

I develop computational methods for integrative analysis, so complex diseases are definitely the most interesting to me. I feel lucky to be a researcher at this time when I can help bring these data types together to understand mechanisms of diseases, which in turn will help inform treatment selection or help find new therapeutic strategies.

I am interested in applying our data integration methods to several complex diseases but I am currently working with a few Canadian groups to help better understand Diffuse Intrinsic Pontine Glioma (DIPG) – a type of fatal childhood brain cancer.

Your current collaborators include researchers from Yale, Harvard, MIT, SickKids and other leading organizations. How did you initiate and sustain these collaborations?

At the beginning of my research career, I would reach out to scientists who were working on interesting, challenging and cutting-edge problems. I enjoy working in collaborative environments because I believe the key to success in biomedical research is through collaborations between researchers from diverse backgrounds.

With the support of my collaborators, I’ve been able to learn and shift my focus from theoretical computational sciences to applications of data science in genetics of complex diseases. Now, sometimes collaborators approach me with their rich data, which I’m eager to help analyze.

With your new appointment, what are you looking forward to over the next few years?

I am eager to continue expanding my research program and working with new scientists on exciting cutting-edge problems in genetics and epigenetics of complex diseases. New technologies have revolutionized how we study diseases, and we are transitioning to a point where these new technologies are revolutionizing how we treat diseases. I am confident that we will have better ways of treating these diseases in the future using personalized medicine, and I want to help make that a reality.

Visit Dr. Shooshtari’s OICR website page

April 19, 2018

Landmark study links tumour evolution to prostate cancer severity

Largest-ever study of its kind uses a tumour’s past to accurately predict its future

Toronto (April 19, 2018) – Findings from Canadian Prostate Cancer Genome Network (CPC-GENE) researchers and their collaborators, published today in Cell, show that the aggressiveness of an individual prostate cancer can be accurately assessed by looking at how that tumour has evolved. This information can be used to determine what type and how much treatment should be given to each patient, or if any is needed at all.

The researchers analyzed the whole genome sequences of 293 localized prostate cancer tumours, linked to clinical outcome data. These were then further analyzed using machine learning, a type of statistical technique, to infer the evolutionary past of a tumour and to estimate its trajectory. They found that those tumours that had evolved to have multiple types of cancer cells, or subclones, were the most aggressive. Fifty-nine per cent of tumours in the study had this genetic diversity, with 61 per cent of those leading to relapse following standard therapy.

Continue reading – Landmark study links tumour evolution to prostate cancer severity

February 21, 2018

FACIT invests $450k in promising Ontario breakthrough technologies

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Investment supports emerging entrepreneurial scientists and critical proof-of-principle studies

TORONTO, ON (February 20, 2018) – FACIT, a business accelerator, announced four new recipients of funding through its Prospects oncology investment competition: Dalriada Therapeutics Inc. (“Dalriada”), 16-Bit Inc. (“16-Bit”), a cancer biomarker study at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (“OICR”), and a virus-based therapeutic under development at the Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa. FACIT’s investments are imperative in bridging the capital gap often experienced by early-stage Ontario companies, helping corporations establish jobs and build roots in the province. The wide ranging scope of the innovations, which span therapeutics, machine learning and biomarker development, reflect the rich talent pool within the Ontario oncology research community.

Continue reading – FACIT invests $450k in promising Ontario breakthrough technologies

October 4, 2017

New software uses machine learning to identify mutations in tumours without reference tissue samples 

DNA sequence

One of the main steps in analyzing cancer genomic data is to find somatic mutations, which are non-hereditary changes in DNA that may give rise to cancer. To identify these mutations, researchers will often sequence the genome of a patient’s tumour as well as the genome of their normal tissue and compare the results. But what if normal tissue samples aren’t available?

Continue reading – New software uses machine learning to identify mutations in tumours without reference tissue samples 

January 10, 2017

New prognostic test for prostate cancer now closer to clinical use

Dr. Emilie Lalonde

Prostate cancer is the most common cancer in Canadian men, but there is still no one-size-fits-all strategy for treating the disease. Currently it is difficult to choose exactly the right type and amount of treatment for each individual because it is hard to accurately assess how aggressive the cancer is. Researchers are now a step closer to bringing a powerful new prognostic tool into clinical use.

Continue reading – New prognostic test for prostate cancer now closer to clinical use

January 9, 2017

Pan-Canadian research team uncovers ‘signature’ to reduce overtreatment of prostate cancer

Dr. Paul Boutros

A team of researchers and clinician-scientists from across Canada have discovered a signature of 41 mutations that are common in prostate cancer and will help to prevent patients with non-aggressive disease from being overtreated. Dr. Paul Boutros, a Principal Investigator in OICR’s Informatics and Bio-computing Program and Co-Lead of the Canadian Prostate Cancer Genome Network (CPC-GENE), answered a few questions about how the signature was developed and its potential impact on patients.

Continue reading – Pan-Canadian research team uncovers ‘signature’ to reduce overtreatment of prostate cancer

October 28, 2016

Pathology Matters: One attendee’s reflections on OMPRN’s first gathering of Ontario pathologists

OMPRN Logo

Dr. Matt Cecchini was one of many pathologists and researchers, including 21 trainees, to attend the inaugural Pathology Matters meeting hosted by the Ontario Molecular Pathology Research Network (OMPRN). In this post he covers what he learned at the meeting, where the field is going and how that impacts his training and research.

Continue reading – Pathology Matters: One attendee’s reflections on OMPRN’s first gathering of Ontario pathologists