June 17, 2020
An open-science brain cancer drug development initiative makes for a memorable master’s experience
Diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma (DIPG) is a complex, lethal and inoperable type of childhood brain cancer with a median survival of less than a year from diagnosis. Not only is DIPG difficult to treat, it is also extremely rare, making it a particularly challenging disease to study. Given this challenge, those studying DIPG have come together from around the world to find new solutions together.
When University of Toronto master’s student Deeba Ensan heard that OICR was contributing to DIPG research, she was eager to help. Over the last two years, Ensan has made considerable progress towards a new drug for DIPG.Continue reading – Inside OICR’s Drug Discovery Lab: A graduate student’s unique collaborative experience
February 26, 2020
OICR staff members Joanna Pineda, a Master’s Student, and Heather Gibling, a PhD Student, talk about how important it is to introduce young women, non-binary and transgender students to computer science.
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.”
August 29, 2019
Did you know that in addition to conducting and enabling cancer research, OICR plays a key role in training the next generation of cancer researchers? Several postsecondary students spent the summer at OICR and gained valuable experience in, and exposure to, the world of cancer research. In this series of videos, five of these students share what they learned during their time at OICR and how their experiences have helped shape their plans for the future.
January 23, 2019
Ontario Molecular Pathology Research Network (OMPRN) helps establish new training standards for pathologists across Canada
Personalized medicine presents a tremendous opportunity for molecular pathologists to contribute to improvements in detecting, diagnosing and selecting treatments for cancer patients. As new diagnostic and prognostic tools continue to emerge, it is becoming increasingly important for pathologists to engage in cancer research and understand new developments across scientific disciplines. Fostering this engagement begins with education.
OMPRN is championing the advancement of molecular pathology training across Canada through its engagement with the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (Royal College), Canada’s governing body for medical education. Together, they are developing a new curriculum for pathology residents based on competencies – the proficiency or ability to perform a skill – rather than the traditional time-based training approach where residents are evaluated based on the amount of time spent acquiring knowledge or practicing a skill.
“The existing competencies around molecular pathology were not adequate in detail, nor were they adequate in rigour,” says Dr. David LeBrun, Principal Investigator at Queen’s Cancer Research Institute and Leader of OMPRN. “So we harnessed the opportunity to improve these training standards for the future of pathology in Canada.”
OMPRN developed a list of molecular pathology competencies, priorities and training strategies to inform a new national curriculum. These suggestions were presented to the Anatomical Pathology Specialty Committee of the Royal College, who accepted several of the proposed strategies and recognized OMPRN’s submission as an official Royal College Curricular Document – a curriculum guide for educators.
One of OMPRN’s major contributions to the new curriculum, which is currently being implemented across Canada, was a competency focused on synthesizing a unified, clinically-actionable report based on results from non-traditional diagnostic tests, such as liquid biopsies or genomic profiling. With this ability, pathologists can better inform clinicians while ensuring that there are no opportunities missed in the detection or diagnosis a patient’s disease.
“With proper training, pathologists can play a key role in bringing the benefits of new research discoveries into the patient experience,” says LeBrun. “These competencies will help ensure that treatment decisions in the clinic are well informed by both conventional pathology techniques and novel tools and resources.”
One of the key challenges of competency-based education is that some training centres may not have the expertise to train their residents on highly-specialized skills. OMPRN is working to address the gap in expertise by developing online education materials to complement the molecular pathology competencies and offering training courses like their inaugural Applied Molecular Pathology Course, which was held January 9-10 in Mississauga.
“Our mission is to create a vibrant community of cancer research-oriented pathologists in Ontario,” says LeBrun. “Through our educational initiatives, OMPRN is helping to build the next generation of pathologists and – in turn – driving the future of cancer innovation.”
For more information on the Ontario Molecular Pathology Research Network, please visit its website.
Learn more about the Royal College’s Competence by Design program in the video below.
July 27, 2018
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.
May 23, 2018
Researchers, specifically those studying cancer, require expertise to tackle increasingly complex, large datasets that are generated by rapidly developing sequencing technologies. Bioinformatics.ca has launched their 2018 Canadian Bioinformatics Workshops (CBW) series to train Canadian and international scientists on cutting-edge topics in bioinformatics – preparing them to harness the potential of big data.
April 9, 2018
Dr. Gregory Pond, Jenna Sykes, Dr. Richard Cook, Yonathan Brhane, Dr. Wei Xu.
Cancer researchers often confront quantitative challenges and puzzles that are best addressed by biostatisticians – specialists in a field for which there is a growing demand. In a 2008 survey of Ontario oncologists, eight in 10 respondents identified the lack of trained biostatisticians as a factor limiting their progress in cancer research. OICR has recently renewed funding for the Biostatistics Training Initiative (BTI) following a successful review. With this funding, the BTI will continue to benefit Ontario’s cancer research community and develop the next generation of cancer biostatisticians. The BTI is run in partnership with in the University of Waterloo and McMaster University.
October 23, 2017
The Toronto Bioinformatics User Group’s (TorBUG) 2017-2018 season continues this Wednesday, October 23 with two presentations that promise to be of interest to anyone involved in bioinformatics. Dr. Quaid Morris, Associate Professor at the University of Toronto (U of T) will present “The Genetic Archaeology of Individual Cancers”. Brendan Innes, a PhD Candidate in the Bader Lab at U of T will cover “Cell types in single-cell RNAseq.”
June 7, 2017
The Ontario Molecular Pathology Research Network (OMPRN) recently awarded $675,000 of funding to support molecular cancer pathology research in Ontario. The 11 funded projects will involve 22 investigators and seven trainees and address clinically-relevant questions in bladder, brain, breast, endometrial, cervical, renal, pediatric and hematological cancers. The 26 applications that were submitted for review demonstrate the high quality and rich diversity of cancer pathology research in the province. Please visit the Funded Projects page for more information.
OMPRN’s mission is to enhance molecular pathology research capacity across the province by fostering collaboration and cooperation between Ontario academic pathologists, increasing the participation of pathologists in high-quality translational cancer research, and providing opportunities for residents, fellows and early career pathologists to obtain training and mentorship in cancer research. In line with these objectives, all of the research projects funded through OMPRN’s Pathology Translational Research Grants (CPTRG) program are led by pathologists, address questions of clear relevance to cancer care and incorporate important elements of transdisciplinary collaboration and mentorship. Trainees and early career researchers involved in these projects will be supported in their research through attending regular meetings of OICR’s Pathology Club.
The next round of the CPTRG program will be announced in the fall of 2017. Information may be found here: https://ontariomolecularpathology.ca/research-funding
June 5, 2017
Fleming’s Biotechnology-Advanced students have received a significant boost to their career preparation with the help of The Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR). Their investment in people is recognized through a very generous donation of an Illumina HiSeq DNA Sequencer to the Biotechnology-Advanced program, a benefit to Fleming College valued at $600,000. This new equipment will provide students with hands-on experience using cutting-edge automated instruments that are utilized widely across the biotechnology industry.
“Some of the best technicians in OICR’s genomic labs are Fleming College graduates. We are proud to pay-it-forward by helping the College give future life sciences researchers in Ontario hands-on training opportunities on real genomics equipment.” says Paul Krzyzanowski, Program Manager of Genome Technologies, OICR. “Illumina equipment is the backbone of most sequencing labs and it’s essential for today’s students to become familiar with the complexity around these machines with hands-on experience.”
The remarkable relationship between OICR and Fleming College has flourished over the last nine years. With its state of the art facilities and research, OICR has become a highly sought after internship agency for Fleming students since the first placement student in 2008. The support from OICR and Illumina helps Fleming College to lead the way in biotechnology training; contributing to excellence in academic programming that includes relevant experiences. The hands-on learning creates a positive impact towards the future of Fleming students and alumni, the success of employers and especially those who benefit from cancer research.
“We are very grateful for the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research for their investment in our students,” says Biotechnology Program Coordinator Ashvin Mohindra. “OICR provides a practical training component through their in-kind gifts and placement opportunities for our students. With their help, we are also pleased to meet OICRs employment needs which is proven with the hiring of more than 18 Fleming College graduates to fill their high-tech positions.”
The in-kind donation would have not been possible without the tireless effort of OICR and Illumina, the sequencer manufacturer and third party liquid handler software provider. The College would like to specifically recognize and thank everyone at OICR who made these donations possible (Lee Timms, Jessica Miller, Paul Krzyzanowski, Tom Hudson, Mike Kostiuk, Susan Hockley, Jeremy Johns, and Howard Simkevitz) and the staff at Illumina for their tireless help and expertise in setting up the equipment (Lisa Lock, Peter Ayache and Mike Ramsey).
OICR, a global leader in healthcare, research and innovation, is dedicated to exploring the prevention, early detection, diagnosis and treatment of cancer. Their commitment to exploring cancer extends beyond the lab; OICR invests in people who can make novel discoveries.
Note: This story originally appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of Fleming Ties magazine and has been reproduced with the permission of Fleming College. The original can be found here (PDF): https://flemingcollege.ca/PDF/FlemingTies/fleming-ties-spring-2017.pdf
April 4, 2017
For three science-obsessed high school students March Break wasn’t a time to kick back and relax. Instead the students, Cameron, Chris and Zev, spent the week at OICR gaining knowledge and hands on experience in genomics and bioinformatics as part of the Gene Researcher for a Week program.