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CHEO Battles Cancer with Unique “Virus Therapy”
OTTAWA –A scientist at the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO) is making exciting progress in the treatment of childhood cancers and brain cancer – moving quickly towards clinical trials with a unique “virus therapy”.

Dr. David Stojdl and his colleagues have been leading the globe in the investigation of this promising new cancer therapy which essentially identifies and uses a virus to selectively kill cancerous tumor cells, without harming healthy cells. Dr. Stojdl a scientist from the Apoptosis Research Centre of the CHEO Research Institute and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of Ottawa.

Dr. Stojdl has been awarded $200,000 to work on the adaptation of this technology for use with pediatric patients with Neuroblastoma, the most common solid tumor in children. This would represent a significant strep forward in the treatment of children who suffer from this often-fatal disease

In addition, $1 million in funding has been dedicated to moving another CHEO-identified virus therapy into clinical trials with adults who suffer from glioblastoma.

These funds form part of the $94 million in new research grants across the province announced yesterday by Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty.

“Virus therapy could be a much more effective and less toxic cancer treatment,” said Dr. Stojdl. “Essentially, we engineer a virus and target it to infect and break down specific cancerous tumor cells. Because the virus does not harm healthy cells, patients would not experience the difficult side affects associated with radiation or chemotherapies.”

“But what’s particularly amazing is the speed with which we are moving forward. I could never have imagined we’d be moving to clinical trials so quickly. This is a really testament to the promise of this particular virus therapy and what it has been shown to do in the labs.”

The CHEO Research Institute is leading the investigation of two of the newest and most promising virus therapies. Dr. Stojdl and team have designed virus strains that have demonstrated their ability to effectively cure mice of local and disseminated tumors of melanoma, ovarian and lung cancer. His lab has also recently carried out the world’s first functional genomic screen of an oncolytic virus -— essentially searching through all of the human genes to identify genes that control oncolytic viruses to specifically target tumor cells, and identifying the genes that impede the oncolytic viruses from killing tumor cells efficiently.

In the year 2007, close to 12,500 children will be diagnosed and approximately 2,300 will die of cancer. Cancer is the leading cause of death from disease in children between the ages of 1 and 19. Neuroblastoma accounts for 14% of all cancers in children younger than five years of age.

“Incidents of primary brain tumors have increased over the past several decades,” said Stojdl. “However, despite the advances in the understanding of brain tumors, the survival of patients has not significantly improved in the last 30 years. Hopefully this treatment will start to change that.”
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