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To all the Brave and strong Kayakers –

Thank you. Thank you for being strong enough, and brave enough to pull together to make the trek again this year. My mom, I am sure, is smiling down on you, helping to keep the skies clear, and the wind at your back.

I wanted to send a quick note to the group, on this final stretch to Ottawa to share with you how the money raised for Cancer research is helping to make a difference. Dr. Bells group at the Ottawa Hospital has been investigating the ability of live, replicating viruses to kill cancer cells. These are not naturally occurring viruses, these are viruses that have been specifically engineered to find and kill cancer cells. These viruses are called Oncolytic Viruses – so called for their ability to replicate specifically in cancer cells, whilst leaving normal cells unharmed. Laboratory research has shown that not only are these viruses safe, but after systemic administration lab animals can be cured from metastatic disease, with nothing more than flu-like symptoms.

Through years of basic research in lab animals, and several toxicology studies to satisfy regulatory agencies, there are now several oncolytic viruses in human clinical trials. Since the concept of injecting a live replicating virus into people (herpes, measles, polio, and poxvirus included) seemed like a crazy idea at first, it has taken several years to establish that these virus treatments are actually very safe in people. Now that safety has been established, Oncolytic Virus trials are now testing to see if these cutting edge treatments can make a difference for cancer patients.

I recently attended the International Oncolytic Virus meeting, where experts in the field gathered to share progress and discuss how to improve these therapies for cancer patients. At the meeting, several researchers and clinicians shared unpublished results from ongoing clinical trials. In one clinical trial, a researcher was presenting his results from a brain cancer study using a Polio oncolytic virus. All of the patients entered in the study had failed all prior treatments, had undergone several brain surgeries, and had no more options. The doctor had treated 5 patients with polio virus, and of those 5 patients – 4 of them had experienced a complete regression of the tumour. During this presentation, the entire audience – full of scientists, and medical oncologists – was so silent, you could hear a pin drop. As he presented the results from each patient, I was getting goosebumps, and tears in my eyes. And I wasn’t the only one. It is working. A 20-year old woman with terminal brain cancer experienced complete regression of her tumour after an injection of live polio virus. After 20+ years of basic research, and a long road to approvals for human clinical trials – there is hope. 

I am still working in the cancer research field at the Ottawa Hospital, working directly with Dr. John Bell. Dr. Bell is the so-called ‘grandfather’ of the oncolytic virus field. After losing his first child, his daughter to leukemia at age 4 – he has dedicated his life to helping to fight this disease. Right here, in Ottawa, our group is focused on taking new research discoveries, and translating them as quickly, and cost effectively as possible to the clinic. I am very proud to say that a new Oncolytic virus therapy is soon to be entering clinical trials right here in Ottawa. We hope to have the trial open as early as June of 2014 to first establish this new viruses safety in humans.  

Most importantly, our cancer research continues so we can discover other oncolytic viruses, for the treatments of other types of cancers. All research dollars matter, and they make a difference. Already we have several more viruses poised for clinical development starting tomorrow. With your support, we can keep hoping for more tomorrows, where one day we may just find a therapy that can make a real difference for cancer patients.

There are no words to explain the pain and anger of losing someone to cancer. In a few years when the pain is not so fresh - I hope that I will be able to join you in the Kayak trip. Know that I am thinking of all of you, and I thank you for remembering, and pushing forward.

Hope to see you at the finish line,


Julia

Julia Rintoul, Ph.D.
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Centre for Innovative Cancer Research



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