Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo
Winner of the Dr. Ronald G. Worton Researcher in Training Award (2011)
at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
After more than four years, Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo has finally gotten used to the strange looks people give him when he says he is developing drugs to enhance virus replication. For most people, enhancing the replication of disease-causing parasites is the last thing you would want to do. But for Dr. Diallo, viruses are more than a scourge – they can also be harnessed to fight a plethora of diseases, from cancer to the common cold.
Dr. Diallo began working with viruses in 2007, when he accepted a Postdoctoral Fellow position in Dr. John Bell’s group at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and the University of Ottawa. Several years earlier, Dr. Bell and his team had discovered that many viruses replicate better in cancer cells than they do in normal cells. In a number of cancer models, these viruses could shrink and even destroy tumours without harming normal tissues.
The goal of Dr. Diallo’s research was to find a way to make these viruses even better cancer therapies. He developed a simple but innovative screen to rapidly test thousands of chemicals for their ability to boost viruses. Within months, he found several novel compounds that could improve viral replication up to 1,000 fold. These compounds have shown great promise in enhancing viral cancer therapy in experimental models, and Dr. Diallo is now investigating the ability of these compounds to boost the production of virus-based vaccines. This research has generated a lot of scientific, public and commercial interest, especially after the recent H1N1 influenza epidemic, when many organizations were grappling with vaccine shortages.
While Dr. Diallo humbly talks about how fortunate he has been to work with such a great team in such an exciting area, those who work with him stress that his vision, energy, creativity and teamwork have been the most crucial success factors.
Dr. Diallo is still in the early stages of his career, but he has already published nearly 20 scientific papers and filed three patents. He has also received many awards and two independent research grants from prestigious national funding agencies. He has mentored nearly a dozen other trainees and he led the University of Ottawa Faculty of Medicine Postdoctoral Association for two years. In addition to all his academic activities, Dr. Diallo is also a talented musician and a devoted husband.