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Fighting cancer with viruses

While viruses are normally thought of as parasites that cause colds, flus and other infectious diseases, Dr. John Bell’s research has shown that certain viruses can be harnessed to selectively attack cancer cells without harming normal cells. This year, Dr. Bell and his team made a major breakthrough by showing for the first time that a viral therapy can consistently and selectively replicate in cancer tissue after systemic delivery through the human bloodstream. The research, published in renowned journal Nature, suggests that viruses may be able to treat advanced cancer that has spread to multiple organs with minimal side effects. We’ll soon know for sure, with larger clinical trials now underway at The Ottawa Hospital and other centres around the world.

Novel stem cell therapy for septic shock

Patients at The Ottawa Hospital will soon be the first in the world to receive an experimental stem cell therapy for septic shock, a highly deadly condition that can occur when an infection spreads throughout the body and damages vital organs. The Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the Stem Cell Network have awarded nearly $450,000 for a clinical trial of this new therapy, which will be led by Dr. Lauralyn McIntyre. The trial is based on extensive pre-clinical research led by Dr. Duncan Stewart, which has shown that stem cell therapy can triple survival in a mouse model of septic shock by preventing organ injury and increasing bacterial killing.

New approach to target genetic muscle disease

Research led by Dr. Rashmi Kothary is providing new hope for patients and families affected by spinal muscular atrophy (SMA), a devastating genetic disease that involves the progressive weakening of muscles and death usually in infancy or childhood. Dr. Kothary and his team discovered that a drug called fasudil can dramatically extend lifespan, increase muscle fibre size and normalize some kinds of behavior in mice with SMA. This research is particularly promising because fasudil has already been used in human clinical trials for other conditions, meaning that it could possibly be retargeted to use in clinical trials for SMA more quickly than a completely new drug. The research was published in BMC Medicine.

New genetic link to cardiovascular disease

Dr. Michel Chrétien’s group has discovered a novel genetic variation in a Québec family that cuts their risk of cardiovascular disease by at least half. The variation was found in a gene called PCSK9, which Dr. Chrétien co-discovered in 2003. This gene is involved in cholesterol metabolism, and the variation results in lower levels of “bad” cholesterol. The study, which is a collaboration with l’Institut de recherches cliniques de Montréal, also suggests that such protective variations may be more prominent in the French Canadian population. Further research could lead to the development of novel cholesterol-lowering therapies. The study is published in Clinical Chemistry.

New insight into muscle development and regeneration

Dr. Michael Rudnicki identified the first stem cells in adult muscle several years ago and his team has continued to make major breakthroughs in understanding how these stem cells work and how they may be harnessed to repair and regenerate muscle tissue. They recently discovered that a protein called Wnt7a promotes growth of muscle tissue in two ways: stimulating muscle stem cells to produce new muscle fibres, and stimulating these muscle fibres to get bigger and more powerful. The finding, published in Nature Cell Biology, represents the first example of a receptor being “wired” to different pathways at different levels of tissue development for a common purpose. This research could lead to the development of novel treatments for patients with muscle degeneration.