We’re a busy bunch of scientists here in Ottawa – so busy, in fact, we have a hard time getting away from our research to tell you about it! For those of you curious about what sort of questions are being answered right now in the Capital Region, we’ve compiled a short list of research projects dealing with cancer. This list is far from complete; as always, if you want to know more about something you read here, please don’t hesitate to contact us.
How does cancer start?
-Mutations in normal cells can accumulate over time and lead to cancer formation.
-Progress in treating and preventing the disease depends on understanding how DNA errors (or mutations) build up in the cancer cells and why they are not repaired correctly.
-Early in his career, Dr. Gray discovered one of the first genes in the human ubiquitin pathway and became interested in ubiquitin’s role in DNA repair.
-Much of their current research focuses on how manipulating ubiquitin levels affects the formation and growth of cancer cells.
How can we study cancer better?
-Animal models that spontaneously develop cancer enable us to understand the process of tumour formation and aid the investigation of novel prevention and treatment strategies.
-Currently, there are few mammalian models of ovarian cancer, which greatly hinders the ability to test novel therapeutics in a physiologically relevant manner.
-They design mouse models of ovarian cancer to investigate the early events associated with tumour initiation, hormone changes on disease progression and how these respond to common and novel therapeutics treatments.
What makes cancer grow?
-A common hallmark of cancer is abnormal and uncontrolled cell growth.
-The Lorimer lab investigates the complex mechanisms involved in cell division with the goal of identifying and evaluating how they might be targeted in cancer therapy.
-Using cells isolated from human brain tumours, they research how cell signaling can also influence the spread of cancer cells and why they are sometimes resistant to chemotherapy.
-They modify signalling pathways in these cells and then determine the effects on cancer cell behaviour.
How do we fight cancer?
-Natural Killer (NK) cells are a necessary component of the innate immune system that guard against diseases such as cancer.
-In order to fulfill this task, NK cells must be able to discriminate between normal healthy cells and those that have become infected or transformed.
-Their laboratory is interested in dissecting the contribution of different cell surface receptors in the control of NK cell function during challenge of the immune system.
Why does cancer come back?
-Surgery is often necessary in the treatment of solid tumours.
-However, many patients often return months or years later to find their cancer has spread to other organs (metastasis).
-The Auer lab and others have demonstrated that there is a strong suppression of the immune system following surgery and that it is partly responsible for this phenomenon.
-They use viruses to boost the immune system around the time of surgery to eliminate any residual cancer cells.
-Work is ongoing to characterize the immune response to viruses and improve long-term survival in mouse models.
How can we fight cancer with viruses?
-Current cancer therapies for metastatic disease have limited efficacy and high toxicity and thus novel approaches to treatment are sought.
-Viruses have many characteristics which make them desirable as a therapeutic strategy for the treatment of cancer including their ability to infect cells and replicate, induce cell death, release viral particles and spread through human tissues.
-They have shown that a variety of viruses selectively replicate in and kill human cancer cell lines, primary patient samples and eliminate contaminated bone marrow of leukemic cells.
-Research focuses on optimizing and selecting for virus strains with improved efficacy in the treatment of cancer.
-The behavior of tumour microenvironment cells during oncolytic virus therapy, including immune cells and other support cells is also an important are of research.
How can we improve virus therapy?
-Not all tumours are able to be targeted and killed by oncolytic viruses, thus they are resistant to this therapy.
-Research in the Diallo Lab focuses on the discovery and characterization of drug compounds that boost the activity of the oncolytic virus.
-Additionally, these compounds increase the susceptibility of cancer cells to the virus.
-This also has great potential to improve virus and vaccine manufacturing.