Cancer Therapeutics Program

Overview


Researchers at the OHRI are working at every level to improve our understanding of cancer, develop new therapeutic approaches, and determine how best to prevent and diagnose this disease. Based at The Ottawa Hospital Cancer Centre, the Cancer Therapeutics Program includes 14 scientists leading research teams of more than 100 people, along with nearly 50 medical, surgical, and radiation oncologists conducting clinical research studies. Under the leadership of Dr. Michael McBurney, the Program has grown and become increasingly collaborative since it was founded in 1995.

Many of the investigations underway involve deciphering the molecular properties of cancer cells to uncover new targets for the development of therapeutics. For example, researchers have discovered that in order to divide rapidly, cancer cells often dispense with some of the molecular mechanisms that normal cells use to protect themselves against viral infection. Cancer cells may therefore be killed by viruses that do not kill normal cells. This research has led to the development of strains of "oncolytic" viruses that replicate in cancer cells and destroy tumours without harming normal tissues. With the recent opening of the Brennan and Tina Mulcahy Oncolytic Virus Research Laboratory, this research is now progressing through clinical testing in cancer patients.

Researchers are also investigating how cancer cells repair their DNA, regulate their genes, differentiate, migrate, and recruit blood vessels in order to uncover new therapeutic targets. At the same time, they are investigating existing therapeutics to determine how they work and how their application might be improved. Experiments on these drugs are often conducted collaboratively, with clinicians evaluating therapies and providing insights from patients, and basic scientists working out the molecular biology and helping to uncover factors that may predict which patients are most likely to benefit.

Clinical cancer research as a whole is very wide-ranging, with as many as 100 active studies underway involving many types of cancer. Areas of investigation include novel types of radiation therapy (such as helical tomotherapy), minimally invasive biopsies and surgeries, bone marrow stem cell transplantation, markers of cancer progression, and testing of various combination therapies.

While cancer research at the OHRI is focused in the Cancer Therapeutics Program, researchers in other Programs are also making important contributions in areas such as cancer stem cells, cancer epidemiology, eye cancer, brain cancer, and ovarian cancer.