2015 Invest in Research Winners

Each year, Invest in Research donors select two new and innovative cancer research projects to each receive a grant of $100,000. On November 3rd, over lunch at Goodmans offices in Toronto’s Financial District, Princess Margaret Cancer Centre’s Interim Research Director, Brad Wouters, presented a number of promising projects for consideration. Read on to learn more about this year’s winning proposals.

CONGRATULATIONS TO OUR 2015 INVEST IN RESEARCH WINNERS!

Development of a Novel System to Generate Human Platelets from Human iPSC Vision

In this study, Drs. John Dick and Gordon Keller plan to research how to direct umbilical cord blood stem cells and “pluripotential” stem cells (with the ability to form all adult cell types) to produce platelets in a petri dish. Based on recent experiments in their laboratories, Drs. Dick and Keller propose to use a novel approach to manipulate the development of platelets from these stem cells and detail the regulation of this process, with the goal of determining the precise conditions for generating platelets.

By understanding and controlling the development of platelets from human stem cells, it will be possible to generate sufficient numbers to use for therapeutic applications. The efficient differentiation of platelets from stem cells would provide a new, disease-free source of cells for transfusions for cancer therapy.

Dr. John Dick is a Senior Scientist at the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine at UHN, Director of the Cancer Stem Cell Program at the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research. He is also Professor of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto.

Dr. Dick's research has revolutionized the study of normal and leukemic human stem cells. In November 2015, he led a group of stem cell scientists in discovering a completely new view of how human blood is made. The findings, published in the prestigious journal Science, prove “that the whole classic ‘textbook’ view we thought we knew doesn’t actually even exist”.

Dr. Dick’s seminal contributions to the fields of molecular hematology, stem cell biology and oncology have been recognized by his election as a Fellow of both the Royal Society of Canada (2004) and the Royal Society of London, UK, (2014) and numerous prestigious awards at the national and international level including the W. Dameshek Prize (2005) and the E. Donnall Thomas Prize (2009) from the American Society of Hematology; the G.H.A Clowes Memorial Award from American Association for Cancer Research (2008); the Clifford Prize for Cancer Research (2009) from Australia; the Noble Prize from National Cancer Institute of Canada (2000); the Diamond Jubilee Award (2007) (with Drs. J.E. Till and E.A. McCulloch) from the National Cancer Institute of Canada; and the Canadian Cancer Research Alliance Award for Outstanding Achievements in Cancer Research (2013).

 Dr. Gordon Keller is a Senior Scientist at The Princess Margaret who is recognized for his pioneering research on applying developmental biology findings to in vitro pluripotent stem cell differentiations. Dr. Keller is also a Professor at the University of Toronto and the Director of the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine. Keller serves on the Scientific Advisory Boards of the Centre for Commercialization of Regenerative Medicine and Stemgent, Inc., and is also a founding member and past president (2005-2006) of the International Society for Stem Cell Research. In addition, Keller is a senior editor for the journal Development. Dr. Keller has brought new insight into how blood-forming stem cells are generated by identifying a key factor that regulates their development in the early embryo stage. This study helps to bring the medical community one step closer to their goal of developing a new and unlimited source of these stem cells for transplantation for the treatment of different blood cell diseases.

Impact of Distinct HPV Subtypes on Survival in Oropharyngeal Cancer

A laboratory test currently used for cervical cancer can distinguish between HPV subtypes. But this test is not routinely used for oropharynx (head and neck) cancer because, up until now, there was no convincing evidence that HPV subtyping could be useful in guiding clinical management. Moreover, this test is relatively expensive to perform and requires a large amount of tissue for biopsy.

In this proposed study, Dr. Scott Bratman and his colleagues will demonstrate the importance of determining HPV subtype to facilitate personalized treatment of oropharynx cancer. They will also aim to evaluate the performance of a novel test that, compared with the standard HPV subtyping test, has the distinct advantages of reduced cost and tissue requirements. Altogether, their work will lead to more precise treatments for oropharynx cancer that are tailored to each individual, leading to higher cure rates with fewer side effects.

Dr. Scott Bratman is a Clinician Scientist at The Princess Margaret and an Assistant Professor in the Department of Radiation Oncology at the University of Toronto. Trained at the Stanford Cancer Institute, his clinical focus is on patients with head and neck cancers, and his research focus is on blood-based biomarkers of cancer. In September 2014, Dr. Bratman joined The Princess Margaret to advance his research program and accelerate translation of laboratory-based findings into the clinic. His work will promote individualized and risk-adapted cancer care strategies.