"The ultimate goal is to save lives and make treatment less toxic and less painful, and to reduce side effects and improve the success rates of treatment.” – Laura Evgin, PhD student in biochemistry, working in Dr. John Bell’s lab.
When Laura Evgin was nine years old, a close family member developed breast cancer. Evgin vividly remembers her loved one’s fatigue, nausea and the hair loss she experienced as the chemotherapy that killed her cancerous cells affected the rest of her body.
Fifteen years later, Laura Evgin is a PhD student in biochemistry at the University of Ottawa. She works alongside Dr. John Bell, one of the world’s foremost researchers in oncolytic viruses. Bell’s groundbreaking work involves using viruses to deliver genetic therapy that kills only the cancerous cells in tumours, while activating the body’s immune response and leaving healthy cells intact.
After only a decade, Bell’s research has the potential to revolutionize cancer treatment by delivering fast, personalized therapy, eliminating the need for the harsh chemotherapy received by Evgin’s family member. “A patient would experience flu-like symptoms shortly after their treatment, and then the virus would kill the cancer and trigger an immune response against the cancer, and the patient would be cancer-free,’‘ says Evgin.
A major gift from the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation is making it possible for Bell to accelerate his research, bringing his therapy to clinical trial and into clinical practice faster so it can improve treatment and start saving lives.
“Investment now can really make a difference quickly,” says Bell. For the Ottawa Regional Cancer Foundation, supporting Bell’s research and providing opportunities for researchers like Evgin to learn from him is part of a strategy to create a critical mass of world-leading research in novel cancer therapy. “When we support research like this, it gives you that hope that at some point cancer will be a very manageable chronic disease,” says Linda Eagen, the Foundation’s president.