Fashion for Compassion

Support Cancer Research at The Ottawa Hospital with Wholesale Outlet 4 Women.

Event Date: April 27, 2019
Event Time: 10:00AM
Location: 1877 Innes Road
Website: https://www.facebook.com/wholesaleoutletottawa/
Email: [email protected]

Featuring clothing lines made in Canada and in Europe, Wholesale Outlet 4 Women is hosting a fundraiser that will see 25% of all sales being donated in support of Cancer Research at The Ottawa Hospital. Starting at 10:00AM on Friday, April 26, admission into the event is free with the chance to win amazing door prizes.

For more information, please email Sherry Woodburn at [email protected].

Tee It Up For Cancer Golf Tournament

Join us for the Tee It Up For Cancer golf tournament on May 30. Proceeds will support patient care and research at The Ottawa Hospital.

Event date: Thursday, May 30, 2019

Time: 10:30 a.m. to 12 p.m. registration; 12 p.m. shot gun start

Dinner: 5 p.m. (immediately following golf)

Awards: 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

Location: Canadian Golf & Country Club, 7800 Golf Club Way, K0A 1B0, Ashton, ON, Canada

For more information and to register today, visit: https://canadiangolfclub.com/collections/tee-it-up-to-fight-cancer 

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Four years after metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, every day is a gift

Jillian O’Connor was 18 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and given less than two years to live. In February, she celebrated the fourth birthday of her healthy baby boy and continues to live life to the fullest.

Jillian O’Connor stands in her living room laughing. A small boy hugs her leg, then takes off and disappears down the stairs to play with his older brother and sister. That was Declan. He turned four on February 1, 2019. The fact that his mother saw him blow out the candles on his birthday cake is extraordinary.

When Jillian was 18 weeks pregnant with Declan, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. She wasn’t expected to celebrate his second birthday. Two and a half years later, Jillian celebrated his fourth birthday with him—and still living life to its fullest.

Jillian O’Connor

The first thing that strikes you about Jillian is her smile. Next, it’s her insatiable enthusiasm for life. Then comes her contagious positivity. Hard not to think the latter alone is why she has made it so far against daunting odds. It may be anecdotal but Jillian definitely thinks, or rather knows, it’s the key.

“I am totally full of cancer, pretty much from my head to my toes,” said Jillian. “Every day I get is a blessing, ‘Oh, I woke up. Perfect!’ You just want to go at it as hard as you can, for as long as you can. Just being optimistic, I think helps. I really believe it helps.”

Jillian’s petite frame belies her light-up-the-room personality. She is gregarious with an enthusiasm that bubbles infectiously out of her. She talks about her cancer matter-of-factly. It is part of her life, but doesn’t rule her. She has other things to focus on—her precious family. The 35-year-old laughs and chats so easily about her life and her journey with cancer that it takes a second to realize how extraordinary her journey has been.

In 2014, Jillian was still nursing Landon, her second child, when she went to see her physician about a blocked milk duct. It turned out to be breast cancer. Doctors wanted to do CT scans to determine the extent of her cancer, but Jillian couldn’t. She was 18 weeks pregnant. Without treatment, she was told she wouldn’t survive to give birth. It was unfathomable. She had a three-year-old daughter and a one-year-old son at home. It was a devastating diagnosis but Jillian met it head on with her own special brand of optimism and determination.

Terminating the pregnancy was not an option for Jillian and her husband David. Her oncologist, Dr. Mark Clemons, told her she didn’t have to. He could provide a chemotherapy cocktail that would keep her cancer at bay without harming her unborn child. Jillian had a mastectomy and a dozen chemo treatments tailored to her special case. On February 1, 2015, she gave birth to a healthy baby Declan.

“I received chemotherapy right up until I delivered him. He was healthy—a wonderful birth weight. He was absolutely perfect,” said Jillian.

After Declan was born, Jillian had scans to see where the cancer was. It had spread, and had metastasized to her bones, liver, and lymphatic system. That was when she was given less than two years.

“Basically, they said, ‘We can’t give you a long timeframe. It’s stage X, so every day you wake up is going to be a gift,’” said Jillian, who stopped working as a nurse at the Queensway Carleton Hospital and became a patient there, receiving treatment at The Ottawa Hospital’s satellite cancer centre, the Irving Greenberg Family Cancer Centre. “Two years passed, then three, and then I passed four years this past summer. I’m hoping I’ll have another 40 plus years. I got a pretty doom and gloom diagnosis, but I continue to pull life off.”

Jillian has pulled life off in a big way. After all, when she brought Declan home from the hospital, she had three children under the age of three to look after. She poured herself into motherhood, enjoying every moment with them. Between weekly trips to the cancer centre for treatment, she was busy changing diapers, making meals, caring for, playing with, and loving her little ones.

Declan and Jillian O'Connor
Four-year-old Declan sits on his mom’s knee.

Declan is back and clambers onto his mother’s knee—for about 30 seconds—before scrambling off onto the couch beside her. He is a typical four-year-old. His big sister Myla, who is seven, and brother Landon, who is five, appear, and the three play on the floor near their mom. Jillian chatters happily with them.

Jillian has celebrated all her children’s early-year milestones: learning to walk, talk, run, play, read, and become independent little people. Both Myla and Landon are now in school. Declan will be joining them in September. In mid-January, Jillian and David registered him for junior kindergarten. Nowadays, while the two older ones are in school, she and Declan have fun hanging out. They fill their days with activities that include volunteering at the school, as well as the more mundane household chores.

“I got a pretty doom and gloom diagnosis, but I continue to pull life off.”

Jillian is exuberant about life. She lives each day as it comes.

“She has, with all the help that modern radiotherapy and medical oncology can offer in Ottawa, in addition to her tremendous personality and drive, done amazingly well in a tragic situation for any young mom,” said Dr. Clemons. “At the same time, she has been involved in practice-changing research that is going to improve the care of patients—she continues to give.”

Over the past four years, Jillian has participated in clinical cancer trials with new therapies that have kept her cancer in check. When it spread to her brain a couple of years ago, she had whole-brain and CyberKnife radiation. Then she was put on new medication that can cross the blood brain barrier, which her regular chemotherapy couldn’t do. The medication halted new tumour growths in her brain. Her cancer is not getting better, but it’s not getting worse, either.

“I’m happy to stay status quo, because there is nothing I want to do that I can’t do right now,” said Jillian.“Status quo—I’m good with that. I feel great. I don’t have aches or pains or anything. I don’t have time to think about how I feel.”

Jillian sits on the floor laughing and playing with her three children. She looks at the little doll her daughter Myla shows her, and hands a ball to Landon. “I really think it’s the kids. They have so much to do with it, because they are so great. They are so fun. They keep me really busy and that’s half the fun. By the time I go to bed at night, I don’t think about cancer. I don’t think about tests coming up. I don’t think about that stuff because I’m too tired. So I think that is helpful.”

Dr. Clemons agrees.

“She is a gem, and her attitude of living life with true meaning is a humbling lesson for all of us,” said Dr. Clemons. “Too many people in society spend too much time moaning about the trivial, as well as things they can’t do anything about. Life is for living, and Jillian encourages people to do that—live!”

Whether it’s thanks to the innovative new treatment she receives or her uber-positive attitude, Jillian has surpassed the original two-year diagnosis by two-and-a-half years.

Dr. Clemons told her, “Whatever you’re doing, keep on doing it—obviously it’s working for you.”

And it is.


We need your help today to give patients like Jillian more time, more memories, more hope. Support our cancer clinical trial research today and help us develop new ways to treat this devastating disease.

More Great Stories

Stem cells may heal lungs of premature babies
A stem cell treatment soon to be tested in clinical trials at The Ottawa Hospital may help heal the lungs of premature babies.
Clinical trial means new options for colorectal cancer patients
Sandy Patenaude participated in a clinical trial of a cancer stem cell inhibitor drug, which successfully prevented her cancer from growing. As a result, doctors are able to determine which patients might benefit from the drug.
Natural killer cells could be immunotherapy game-changer
Scientist discovers other immune cells that have the potential to make immunotherapy treatments work for more people, and more types of cancers.

Clinical trial  means new options for colorectal cancer patients

When Sandy Patenaude’s MRI showed that her colorectal cancer had spread to her liver and lungs, she was asked to participate in a clinical trial of a cancer stem cell inhibitor drug. In Sandy’s case, the drug successfully prevented her cancer from growing.  As a result, doctors  are able to determine which patients might benefit  from the drug.

Three years ago, Sandy Patenaude was given the devastating news that she had stage 4 colorectal cancer. It had spread to her liver and lungs, and was inoperable. Sandy’s oncologist asked if she would like to go on a clinical trial, testing a new cancer stem cell inhibitor drug along with her chemotherapy.

“Cancer stem cell inhibitors, why not?” said Sandy who agreed to be part of the trial.

Dr. Derek Jonker, Medical Oncologist at The Ottawa Hospital, is leading the international trial for people with colorectal cancer, with the experimental drug napabucasin. He explained that cancer stem cells are the rare, immature cells in a tumour, which are often resistant to chemotherapy. They can give rise to the more mature cancer cells that make up the bulk of a tumour. Cancer stem cells are not the same as the normal stem cells that live in many healthy adult tissues and help with healing and repair.

“With chemotherapy, we can deliver treatment that can shrink the vast part of the cancer,” said Dr. Jonker, who is also an associate professor at the University of Ottawa. “Often the bulk of the tumour disappears, but what’s left is a small tumour with lots of these chemo-resistant cancer stem cells, which are able to spread and seed other places in the body. Often, we keep giving the same chemotherapy and find the tumour has regrown, but it’s not the same tumour it was when we started.”

Dr. Derek Jonker
Dr. Derek Jonker led a clinical trial for colorectal cancer with a cancer stem cell inhibiting drug that has helped Sandy Patenaude.

Dr. Jonker is switching up the treatment to target the  cancer stem  cells that aren’t affected by standard chemo. In a previous randomized  clinical  trial he led , patients either  received a placebo or  napabucasin  to test its effectiveness at  inhibiting, or preventing,  the growth of the  cancer stem cells. The trial was carried out at  40  sites in Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and Japan. The  562  patients enrolled had advanced colorectal cancer  and chemotherapy no longer worked for them.

Looking at the results of the trial, Dr. Jonker said  they didn’t see much benefit in the group overall. “But when we looked at patients who had a  tumour  that  had characteristics of a high cancer stem cell (phospho-STAT3) over expression there was very significant improvement in their survival.”

Dr. Jonker presented his findings in October 2016 at the European Society for Medical Oncology, showing that where the cancer stem cell inhibitor didn’t work in all patients, there was an improvement in the survival of the 22 percent of patients who had  tumours  with high phospho-STAT3.  He said it’s “proof of principle that stem cells are an important target for cancer patients.” Napabucasin is now being combined in the  current trial  with chemotherapy to attack the cancer on two fronts  at the same time.

“We know  with results of the clinical trial that  the majority of  patients did not respond to it, but we have two patients here in Ottawa who  have responded and definitely developed benefit from the clinical agent,” said  medical oncologist Dr. Christine Cripps.

Sandy Patenaude outdoors

“I thought I’d be part of the trial, because I thought well, it’s new.”

Sandy is one of those patients who benefited.  Her tumours shrank,  and the surgeons were able to remove spots in her liver and the primary  tumour in her rectum.  Dr. Cripps said she believes that part of the success in keeping Sandy’s cancer at bay is the napabucasin she is taking as part of  the  clinical trial.

“A stem cell inhibitor works differently than traditional chemotherapy, in that it prevents new disease from  appearing,” said  Saara  Ali, research coordinator for clinical trials in gastrointestinal cancers. “The hope is that the pill [napabucasin] will prevent new disease from showing. And in Sandy’s case there hasn’t been new disease  since her treatment. Everything was there before, so it may be doing its job.”

Next steps: Dr. Jonker hopes to start  another clinical trial with the cancer stem cell inhibitor that will be used specifically for patients who have lots of phospho-STAT3 in their  tumour. These patients could be identified for the clinical trial with molecular testing, using The Ottawa Hospital’s Molecular Oncology Diagnostics lab.  This would target the patients presumed to be the most likely to benefit most from the drug.

“We would repeat our study, randomize those patients with  napabucasin  and a placebo, and if we can prove that  napabucasin is effective for them, then it would be an option for patients who have run out of all other treatment options,” said Dr. Jonker.

Dr. Cripps said that Sandy is a candidate for this next trial,  and her tumours  will be analyzed by the molecular lab to see  whether she has high phospho-STAT3 cancer stem cell expression. Regardless, Sandy will continue using the trial drug as long as it is working for her. And it is working. The mother of three adult children said  she’s busy doing a million things, playing euchre, the ukulele, skiing, hiking, biking, and enjoying life.


The Ottawa Hospital is raising funds for clinical trials,  because  research has proven to be the best way to improve treatments and even find cures for cancer and other devastating diseases.

More Great Stories

Stem cells may heal lungs of premature babies
A stem cell treatment soon to be tested in clinical trials at The Ottawa Hospital may help heal the lungs of premature babies.
Four years after metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, every day is a gift
Jillian O’Connor was 18 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and given less than two years to live. In February, she celebrated the fourth birthday of her healthy baby boy and continues to live life to the fullest.
Natural killer cells could be immunotherapy game-changer
Scientist discovers other immune cells that have the potential to make immunotherapy treatments work for more people, and more types of cancers.

Natural killer cells could be immunotherapy game-changer

Scientists have known that key molecules on cancer cells suppress the immune T-cells and prevent them from attacking the cancer. Dr. Ardolino discovers other immune cells, called killer cells, that could offer more immunotherapy treatment options.

Although the connection between the immune system and cancer has been recognized for over a century, understanding how the immune system works against cancer has been the biggest challenge for scientists like Dr. Michele Ardolino.

Initially, efforts were made to stimulate the immune system to make it attack the cancer. But the game-changer was the discovery that there are key molecules, called immune checkpoints, on cancer cells that suppress the immune cells and prevent them from attacking the cancer. There are many types of immune cells. T-cells have been recognized as key immune cells and the ones that immunotherapy drugs have been designed to target.

Dr. Michele Ardolino in his lab
Dr. Michele Ardolino’s discovery focused on ‘natural killer’ immune cells.

“What we didn’t know before is that some of these receptors are present in other immune cells,” said Dr. Michele Ardolino, scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. “What we discovered is that these receptors are present on another type of immune cell called natural killer cells.”

He said that even though most of the immunotherapy drugs target the T-cells to make them work better, not all cancer tumours are responsive to T-cells.

“But,” said Dr. Ardolino, “These tumours might be very effectively killed by natural killer cells. So, if we know what kind of tumour the patient has, we can design therapies to elicit the most effective immune response. Which in some cases could be a T-cell response and in other cases could be a natural killer response.”

“We now have a better idea of how the immune system suppresses cancer. This means that we can now target the mechanism that suppresses the immune system in a more specific way.”

“This is cool for a number of reasons,” said Dr. Ardolino. “We now have a better idea of how the immune system suppresses cancer. This means that we can now target the mechanism that suppresses the immune system in a more specific way. And we can elicit a stronger natural killer cell response against cancer.”

It is becoming widely recognized that not only is cancer unique to each patient, but the immune system is also unique to each person. Researchers and clinicians are realizing the importance of tailoring the immunotherapy not only to each person’s cancer but to their own unique immune system. It is a complex problem to give a drug that would have maximum therapeutic effect with the least side effects, to be as targeted as possible.

Dr. Ardolino recently published a breakthrough discovery that has potential to make immunotherapy treatments to work for more people, and more types of cancers.

In October 2018, immunologists James Allison and Tasuku Honjo were awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for their discoveries of immune checkpoint inhibitors, considered a landmark in the fight against cancer.


The Ottawa Hospital is raising funds for clinical trials, as research has proven to be the best way to improve treatments and even find cures for cancer and other devastating diseases.

More Great Stories

Stem cells may heal lungs of premature babies
A stem cell treatment soon to be tested in clinical trials at The Ottawa Hospital may help heal the lungs of premature babies.
Four years after metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, every day is a gift
Jillian O’Connor was 18 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and given less than two years to live. In February, she celebrated the fourth birthday of her healthy baby boy and continues to live life to the fullest.
Clinical trial means new options for colorectal cancer patients
Sandy Patenaude participated in a clinical trial of a cancer stem cell inhibitor drug, which successfully prevented her cancer from growing. As a result, doctors are able to determine which patients might benefit from the drug.

Immunotherapy eradicates cop’s cancer

Despite years of treatment to prevent recurrence of skin cancer, Ian McDonell’s melanoma–a disease that killed his brother–spread to his brain and body. In 2017, he started an innovative immunotherapy treatment. A year after finishing immunotherapy, all scans show his cancer is gone.

Ian McDonell was off-duty, walking along a bike path in August, when he saw men fighting. He called the police and tackled one of the men who tried to run away. But Ian’s courageous action is all the more remarkable because the summer before he was bedridden from cancer.

“I thought back to a year ago,” said Ian, “and there’s no way I would’ve even been out walking.”

Back up five years, Ian’s brother was dying of melanoma, and his father had just died of cancer. Ian’s wife insisted he see his physician to check out a mole on his back. It turned out to be an ulcerated nodular malignant melanoma–an aggressive form of skin cancer.

Ian had surgery to remove it and a lymph node from his left groin. Several weeks later, he had a lymph node removed from his armpit. Although he had no signs of cancer, considering his family’s history, Ian was high risk for relapse.

The 47-year-old Staff Sergeant with the Ottawa Police was referred to oncologist Dr. Michael Ong, a specialist in skin and urological cancers at The Ottawa Hospital. After discussing all options, Dr. Ong recommended Ian participate in a clinical trial using a targeted chemotherapy known to dramatically shrink melanoma, and being tested to improve cure rates.

Ian McDonell having his first immunotherapy treatment.
Ian McDonell having his first immunotherapy treatment.

“Immunotherapy does not directly affect the cancer itself. Instead, immunotherapy unmasks the cancer to your immune system.”

Ian took the treatment between November 2013 and August 2014 while still working full time, and continued intensive regular imaging scans after treatment to monitor for relapse. Ian was feeling very well at a standard monitoring visit in June 2017, but shockingly his CT and MRI scans showed sobering news. He had half a dozen tumours in his groin and abdomen, and three more tumours metastasized to his brain. Ian’s cancer was stage 4. Historically, patients with brain metastases live about four months.

Given the severity of the findings, Dr. Ong suggested an aggressive approach–a recently approved immunotherapy treatment.

“The idea of immunotherapy is not new. There have been clinical trials for decades. But only recently have we been extremely successful,” said Dr. Ong, who is also an assistant professor at the University of Ottawa.

Although, the connection between the immune system and cancer has been recognized for over a century, understanding how the immune system works against cancer has been the biggest challenge for scientists.

Initially, efforts were made to stimulate the immune system to make it attack the cancer. But the game-changer was the discovery that there are key molecules, called immune checkpoints, on cancer cells that suppress the immune T-cells, and prevent them from attacking the cancer. These immune checkpoints cloak the cancer from the immune system. New drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors remove this cloak, and allow the immune system to naturally attack and destroy the cancer.

“The idea of chemotherapy is to kill off cancer directly,” said Dr. Ong. “There are potential side effects, because chemotherapy tries to poison the cancer. In contrast, immunotherapy does not directly affect the cancer itself. Instead, immunotherapy unmasks the cancer to your immune system by flipping some switches on T-cells, and the body’s own immune system does the rest.”

Dr. Michael Ong
Oncologist Dr. Michael Ong said recent immunotherapies are hugely successful for treating melanoma.

Immunotherapy is having the most success in patients with melanoma, like Ian. The first trial that demonstrated its effectiveness with this form of skin cancer was presented at an oncology conference in Chicago in 2010. The study results showed the median improvement in survival time was four months. Dr. Ong said, initially, the findings didn’t seem very impressive.

“It was just another clinical trial report, and four months didn’t sound like a long time,” said Dr. Ong. “But the reported improvement was the median change. What we didn’t realize until later was that while the immunotherapy didn’t work for 80 percent of patients, 20 percent of patients were actually cured of their metastatic melanoma. When data was looked at in 10 years, all of the responding patients were still alive.”

Since then, immunotherapies have been developed and tested in clinical trials that have increased the one-year survival rate for advanced melanoma from 25 to 80 percent.

Ian started on a combination of two immunotherapies, a big advance since 2010 and recently approved for use by Health Canada. He said the immunotherapy treatment is given intravenously in the chemotherapy unit at the hospital’s cancer centre. The whole process took two hours for each treatment, and Ian was scheduled for one dose, every three weeks for four treatments.

Ian did one round, then had CyberKnife radiotherapy treatment. High doses of radiation were directed at his brain tumours. He bravely continued with the second round of immunotherapy, but was so sick, he had to be taken off the treatment and started on steroid medications to slow down the immune system. Ian felt better, but his immunotherapy was on hold.

At the end of September, Ian had some new weakness in his face and there was worry about his cancer getting worse. It wasn’t. His scans showed one tumour had shrunk from 25 to 10 mm, and another tumour had shrunk from eight to four mm.

Dr. Ong said, “Looks like something good is happening here,” and recommended trying a single immunotherapy rather than two. Ian received the treatment in mid-November 2017. He found it extremely challenging again and was very sick.  All his treatments were stopped.

“But it did the trick,” said Ian.

Ian McDonell, his three daughters and wife on the beach
Ian McDonell, his three daughters and wife on the beach

Two months later in January 2018, Ian had a PET scan to assess the status of his cancer. A PET scan uses a radioactive sugar that highlights colour images where the cancer cells are. No colours lit up when Ian had the scan. Then he had an MRI, and there were no signs of any tumours in his brain. All three were gone. In April, he had a CT scan, and another again in July. Nothing showed up on the scans. He was tumour free. All trace of his cancer was gone.

At an appointment after the last scans, Dr. Ong told Ian that when he had first seen him in 2013, options for immunotherapy or targeted chemotherapy weren’t available. Four years later, thanks to incredible advances in immunotherapy, there was hope.

“In the last five years, we’ve gone from having very poor options to having many effective options for melanoma. That’s because cancer therapy continues to develop at a very rapid pace,” said Dr. Ong. “We, at The Ottawa Hospital, are constantly participating in practice-changing clinical trials. The standard of care is constantly changing, as it should. We are constantly trying to push the limits of cancer treatment.”

The Ottawa Hospital is a leader in cancer immunotherapy research, both in terms of developing new therapies and in offering experimental treatments to patients. Currently, there are 69 active cancer immunotherapy clinical trials being conducted at the hospital. Dr. Ong currently has 50 patients on immunotherapy clinical trials, but there are hundreds of patients on similar active clinical trials at The Ottawa Hospital.

People with melanoma skin cancer are young: 30 to 50. Melanoma that involves lymph nodes is very aggressive, and historically 50 percent of patients will have a relapse and spread of melanoma. However, new treatments, including immunotherapy, have between a 43 and 53 percent reduction in the risk of recurrence.  At The Ottawa Hospital, many patients are participating in a study to see if two immunotherapy drugs are better than one to reduce the chance of relapse even more.

As a result of successful immunotherapy treatments, patients like Ian are now faced with survivorship issues. Living without cancer.

Ian found he had to rethink what he wanted to do. He has been on sick leave from the Ottawa Police Services since August 2017 when the cancer returned.

“When the provincial exams for police services came up, I said, ‘I’m gonna write it, because I’ve got a bit of hope now.’ I wrote the inspector’s exam and I passed,” said Ian.

Immunotherapy has given the father of three his life back and a future to see his family grow up. He’ll also continue to tackle more crime.

The Ottawa Hospital is also conducting basic and translational research in immunotherapy. For example, Dr. Michele Ardolino recently made a breakthrough in understanding immunotherapy, which could allow this approach to work for many more people with cancer.

Read more about immunotherapy research.


As research has proven to be the best way to improve treatments and even find cures for cancer and other devastating diseases, The Ottawa Hospital is raising funds for clinical trials.

More Great Stories

Stem cells may heal lungs of premature babies
A stem cell treatment soon to be tested in clinical trials at The Ottawa Hospital may help heal the lungs of premature babies.
Four years after metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, every day is a gift
Jillian O’Connor was 18 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and given less than two years to live. In February, she celebrated the fourth birthday of her healthy baby boy and continues to live life to the fullest.
Clinical trial means new options for colorectal cancer patients
Sandy Patenaude participated in a clinical trial of a cancer stem cell inhibitor drug, which successfully prevented her cancer from growing. As a result, doctors are able to determine which patients might benefit from the drug.

Cancer Research at The Ottawa Hospital

The Ottawa Hospital has earned an international reputation for leadership in cancer research. From unmatched expertise in oncolytic viruses to revolutionizing the clinical trials process, we are changing what we know about cancer and how we treat it.

The Challenge

When you’re diagnosed with cancer, time is critical and every minute counts. The wait for surgery, for treatment, for life to get back to normal, can seem agonizing. Time is equally critical in the world of cancer research. Every day, scientists are working to find new therapies. The sooner these therapies can be delivered to patients, the better their chances for recovery.

At The Ottawa Hospital, our patients have access to the very best doctors and therapies when they need it the most. Our world-leading research draws experts from around the world to work in our facilities, to help us revolutionize every aspect of cancer care, from improving treatment to saving the lives of patients with diseases that only a few years ago would have been untreatable.

Over the next 15 years, Canadians will see a 40 percent increase in cancer diagnoses with almost one in two developing cancer in their lifetime. Our ability to translate research into patient therapies coupled with one of the best-equipped cancer centres in the country means we are well-positioned to face this challenge head-on.

Our Vision

We believe cancer can be beaten. Our cancer and research centres have been ranked among the best in the world and from here we’re seeing results that a decade ago were deemed impossible to achieve. Together, our people and our facilities have created a breeding ground of knowledge for the best and brightest medical minds in the world. We’re confident that if we stay the course, cancer will be beaten.

Why The Ottawa Hospital

We’re already one of the largest research and learning hospitals in the country. And we didn’t get there by thinking small and in the short-term. The plan was simple: recruit the best and brightest minds in science and health care, bring them together under one roof, find the answers to health care’s biggest challenges. And we were right. Our world-renowned facilities, researchers, medical professionals and clinical trials are the best of the best, so they attract the best of the best. We’ve already made tremendous breakthroughs and there’s more to come. The world is watching what’s happening at The Ottawa Hospital.

“We, at The Ottawa Hospital, are constantly participating in practice-changing clinical trials. The standard of care is constantly changing, as it should. We are constantly trying to push the limits of cancer treatment.” – Dr. Michael Ong

Our Research Successes

Dr. John Bell in his research lab

2000: Dr. John Bell discovers that a virus, called VSV, can kill cancer cells without harming normal cells. In 2011, his group publishes a landmark study in the prestigious scientific journal Nature showing the results of his world-first clinical trial based on this discovery.

Dr. Rebecca Auer

2017: Dr. Rebecca Auer’s personalized vaccine, made with cancer cells infected with a cancer-fighting virus, cured abdominal cancer in animal models. Dr. Auer is preparing a clinical trial based on these findings.

Dr. Caroline Ilkow

2018: Dr. Carolina Ilkow and her team first demonstrate that cancer cells use a unique approach to fight off viruses. Her team then builds a virus that blocks this defence mechanism. Proving very effective at killing normally resistant cancer cells, this may lead to better, more broadly effective immunotherapy treatments.

Your Impact

The impact that one person can have on the future of health care is huge. The impact a group of like-minded community leaders can have on the future of health care is limitless. Thanks to donor support we’ve built one of the largest and busiest regional cancer treatment centres in the country. We have one of the only oncolytic virus manufacturing facilities in the country that trains modified viruses to kill cancer cells. We have technology like the CyberKnife that performs non-invasive day-surgery procedures on previously inoperable and often terminal brain tumours. Our state-of-the-art breast health centre has dedicated diagnostic machines to speed up the treatment process, clear backlogs, and help more people get back to healthy lives. These are only a few examples of how donors have changed the face of health care. We specialize in matching donors who want to help with those who need their help the most.

Cancer Research Update 2018-2019

Research To Improve Patient Care

Dr. Dean Fergusson

2014: Drs. Dean Fergusson and Mark Clemons launch the world-leading REaCT (Rethinking Clinical Trials) program to quickly asses available cancer treatments and streamline clinical trials enrollment. With fewer than three percent of patients enrolling before REaCT, enrollment now exceeds 90 percent. By the end of 2017 this program enrolled more breast cancer patients in clinical trials than all other trials in Canada combined.

Dr. Glen Goss

2016: Dr. Glen Goss leads an international clinical trial showing that 70 percent of patients with a certain kind of lung cancer respond to a new targeted therapy. This therapy is now available as a standard treatment in Canada.

Dr. Natasha Kekre

2018: Dr. Natasha Kekre is leading the charge to bring a “made-in-Canada” version of CAR-T cell immunotherapy to The Ottawa Hospital. Shown to completely eliminate some advanced pediatric blood cancers, this revolutionary treatment removes a patient’s T-cells and modifies them in the lab to attack cancer cells. The Ottawa Hospital is the only site in Canada manufacturing these cells and among the first to participate in clinical trials of this therapy.

The Ottawa Hospital Foundation is raising money for research that is revolutionizing the care we provide patients.

Be Inspired

Inspired giving means more than giving to kidney research
When Phil Downey’s kidneys failed, his wife Gail, his three adult children and two step children “threw in the hat,” and volunteered to donate their kidney. Two generations were so inspired by the care Phil received that they then made a donation to kidney research at The Ottawa Hospital.
Extraordinary volunteer recognized with GG medal
Mike Baine’s extraordinary volunteerism with The Ottawa Hospital Foundation was recognized with a Governor General’s medal.
From patient to volunteer—’a little conversation could make a huge difference’
Two volunteers took Fran Cosper for a coffee when he was a patient at The Ottawa Hospital Rehab Centre and it inspired him to also volunteer when his condition allows.

Section 1.10.32 of ``de Finibus Bonorum et Malorum``, written by Cicero in 45 BC

“Sed ut perspiciatis unde omnis iste natus error sit voluptatem accusantium doloremque laudantium, totam rem aperiam, eaque ipsa quae ab illo inventore veritatis et quasi architecto beatae vitae dicta sunt explicabo. Nemo enim ipsam voluptatem quia voluptas sit aspernatur aut odit aut fugit, sed quia consequuntur magni dolores eos qui ratione voluptatem sequi nesciunt. Neque porro quisquam est, qui dolorem ipsum quia dolor sit amet, consectetur, adipisci velit, sed quia non numquam eius modi tempora incidunt ut labore et dolore magnam aliquam quaerat voluptatem. Ut enim ad minima veniam, quis nostrum exercitationem ullam corporis suscipit laboriosam, nisi ut aliquid ex ea commodi consequatur? Quis autem vel eum iure reprehenderit qui in ea voluptate velit esse quam nihil molestiae consequatur, vel illum qui dolorem eum fugiat quo voluptas nulla pariatur?”

News

Events

Fashion for Compassion
Apr 27 - 2019 — Support Cancer Research at The Ottawa Hospital with Wholesale Outlet 4 Women
Alive to Strive
Apr 28 - 2019 — The Alive to Strive Kidney Fitness Project is committed to helping those living with chronic kidney disease maintain a healthy lifestyle.
The Golf Quest 4 Clinical Trials
Jun 18 - 2019 — Enjoy a round of golf among friends in support of clinical trials at The Ottawa Hospital.

Stories

Four years after metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, every day is a gift
Jillian O’Connor was 18 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and given less than two years to live. In February, she celebrated the fourth birthday of her healthy baby boy and continues to live life to the fullest.
Clinical trial means new options for colorectal cancer patients
Sandy Patenaude participated in a clinical trial of a cancer stem cell inhibitor drug, which successfully prevented her cancer from growing. As a result, doctors are able to determine which patients might benefit from the drug.
Natural killer cells could be immunotherapy game-changer
Scientist discovers other immune cells that have the potential to make immunotherapy treatments work for more people, and more types of cancers.

CAR-T cell therapy—new hope when standard cancer treatments fail

When Stefany Dupont’s leukemia returned after her bone marrow transplant, the prognosis was dire. However, she was eligible for a novel immunotherapy treatment using CAR-T cells, which ultimately saved her life. Doctors at The Ottawa Hospital are planning CAR-T cell clinical trials to help other patients with blood cancers have a better chance of survival.

Stefany Dupont’s leukemia symptoms have disappeared. Her disease was put into complete remission by a revolutionary new treatment called CAR-T cell therapy. It’s having such high success rates in patients with blood cancers that The Ottawa Hospital is developing its own CAR-T program and clinical trials. The hospital is playing a lead role nationally with this made-in-Canada CAR-T approach.

Stefany was first diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) when she was 13.

Children with leukemia are given a strict chemotherapy protocol that effectively cures more than 90 percent of patients. Unfortunately, this was not the case with Stefany.

She was in remission for five years but, in 2010, her leukemia came back. She was now 18, an adult, and began receiving treatment at The Ottawa Hospital. A regimen of chemotherapy was followed by a hematopoietic bone marrow stem cell transplant in October 2015. Stefany, however, had another relapse a year and a half later. Adults with leukemia who relapse after a transplant have less than a 10 percent chance of survival.

“Stefany was unlucky enough to relapse within two years of her transplant,” said Dr. Jill Fulcher, Stefany’s doctor, who specializes in malignant hematology and is a clinician-investigator at The Ottawa Hospital. “But her leukemia came back with a blast and she was very sick. Palliative management was all we had to offer patients with ALL who relapsed so soon post-transplant.”

Dr. Jill Fulcher stands behind Stefany listening with stethoscope
Hematologist Dr. Jill Fulcher confirms that Stefany Dupont is in remission over one year after her CAR-T cell therapy. Previously, Stefany was given a 10 to 20 percent chance of survival, pre-CAR-T cell treatment.

Dr. Fulcher and fellow colleague Dr. Natasha Kekre, a hematologist and associate scientist at The Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa, knew that clinical trials in the United States, using CAR-T cell immunotherapy, showed amazing results in children and adolescents with leukemia and blood cancers, putting many into long-lasting remission.

For patients, like Stefany, who are extremely sick and out of options, CAR-T cell therapy offers hope, which is why Dr. Kekre is leading the charge to bring CAR-T cell immunotherapy to The Ottawa Hospital. Health Canada approved the first version of the therapy in September 2018. A pharmaceutical company-led trial began recruiting patients at the hospital in late fall with the first patient receiving treatment in January, making The Ottawa Hospital one of the first hospitals in Canada to participate in these trials.

However, this treatment was not yet available in Canada when Stefany needed it. So, her only option at the time was to try to join a CAR-T clinical trial at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, which was having great success. The hospital’s clinical trial was still accepting patients with ALL up to 25 years of age. Stefany was eligible to participate.

CAR-T cell therapy is a relatively new treatment that uses the patient’s own immune cells, known as T-cells, to treat their blood cancer. T-cells play a critical role in the immune system by killing abnormal cells, such as cells infected by germs or cancer cells.

With this treatment, blood is taken from the patient and the T-cells are separated out. The cells are then genetically engineered using inactive viruses to produce synthetic molecules on their surface called chimeric antigen receptors, or CARs. Over several weeks, these modified T-cells multiply in the laboratory into hundreds of millions before being infused into the patient’s blood stream. The CAR-T cells further multiply in the patient’s body, then begin recognizing and killing cancer cells.

Hematologist Natasha Kekre
Dr. Natasha Kekre is working with other hospitals across Canada to develop a “made-in-Canada” approach for CAR-T cancer therapy.

“Previous CAR-T trials have shown dramatic responses in patients who normally have a 10 to 20 percent long-term survival rate with standard therapies. The short-term response rate with CAR-T cells has been 70 to 80 percent,” said Dr. Kekre. “That’s why Stefany, who had a bad disease that didn’t go away with chemotherapy, got referred for the trial.”

“CAR-T therapy is very promising, but it is still very new,” said Dr. Harold Atkins, a hematologist-scientist who is working with Dr. Kekre to bring CAR-T trials to The Ottawa Hospital. “More clinical trials are needed, particularly to study the long-term effects.”

Data from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is very promising. They have patients who are in remission five years after treatment. And patients who are still in complete remission at the six-month stage are likely to have long-term survival.

Stefany was able to go to Philadelphia and had a CAR-T cell infusion in September 2017. At her first three-month assessment, she had a bone marrow biopsy that showed she was still in remission. Positive news that meant the treatment was working.

Three months later, after getting the all clear that her leukemia was in remission, Stefany went on a well-deserved trip.

“After the sixth month waiting time, I went to Australia, from January 10 to February 7, 2018,” said Stefany. She visited Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, and hang-gliding over the shores of Byron Bay. It was a wonderful break after the intensive treatment.

“It is a really good sign that Stefany has remained in remission over a year after having CAR-T cell therapy,” said Dr. Fulcher. “Without this therapy, she definitely would not be with us today.”

CAR-T therapy will soon be more available in Canada, as researchers at The Ottawa Hospital, working with colleagues across the country, are developing a “made-in-Canada” approach for CAR-T cell clinical trials.

“We are making our own Canadian CAR-T cell program,” said Dr. Kekre. “Because our CAR-T cells are considered experimental, they will only be available as part of a clinical trial.”

“Previous CAR-T trials have shown dramatic responses in patients who normally have a 10 to 20 percent long-term survival rate with standard therapies. The short-term response rate with CAR-T cells has been 70 to 80 percent,” said Dr. Kekre. “That’s why Stefany, who had a bad disease that didn’t go away with chemotherapy, got referred for the trial.”

“CAR-T therapy is very promising, but it is still very new,” said Dr. Harold Atkins, a hematologist-scientist who is working with Dr. Kekre to bring CAR-T trials to The Ottawa Hospital. “More clinical trials are needed, particularly to study the long-term effects.”

Data from the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia is very promising. They have patients who are in remission five years after treatment. And patients who are still in complete remission at the six-month stage are likely to have long-term survival.

Stefany was able to go to Philadelphia and had a CAR-T cell infusion in September 2017. At her first three-month assessment, she had a bone marrow biopsy that showed she was still in remission. Positive news that meant the treatment was working.

Three months later, after getting the all clear that her leukemia was in remission, Stefany went on a well-deserved trip.

“After the sixth month waiting time, I went to Australia, from January 10 to February 7, 2018,” said Stefany. She visited Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne, went scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef, and hang-gliding over the shores of Byron Bay. It was a wonderful break after the intensive treatment.

“It is a really good sign that Stefany has remained in remission over a year after having CAR-T cell therapy,” said Dr. Fulcher. “Without this therapy, she definitely would not be with us today.”

CAR-T therapy will soon be more available in Canada, as researchers at The Ottawa Hospital, working with colleagues across the country, are developing a “made-in-Canada” approach for CAR-T cell clinical trials.

“We are making our own Canadian CAR-T cell program,” said Dr. Kekre. “Because our CAR-T cells are considered experimental, they will only be available as part of a clinical trial.”

magnified image of CAR-T cells.
CAR-T cells are increasing short-term survival rates to 70 to 80 percent for patients with leukemia and other blood cancers that don’t respond to normal treatment methods.
image of CAR-T treatment at cellular level

This trial aims to begin recruiting patients in 2019. It will be open in Ottawa and Vancouver with different components of the CAR-T cells being manufactured in Ottawa and Victoria.

CAR-T therapy needs to be individually manufactured for each patient, using a patient’s own cells combined with large amounts of highly pure virus to deliver the CAR gene. The Ottawa Hospital’s Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre, pioneered by Dr. John Bell, is ideally positioned to manufacture this kind of therapy because it has the most advanced system to make clinical grade virus needed to create CAR-T cells for clinical trials. This is the only facility in Canada that has the capability of producing this kind of virus.

“With our unique manufacturing facility, our expertise in clinical trials and our world-class cancer and hematology programs, The Ottawa Hospital is ideally positioned to lead the way in developing the next generation of CAR-T therapy,” said Dr. Rebecca Auer, Director of Cancer Research at The Ottawa Hospital and associate professor at the University of Ottawa.

Dr. Kekre said patients with ALL, lymphoma, and other blood cancers could benefit from this treatment. The hope is that one day CAR-T cell therapy may also be a treatment for a variety of cancers, such as breast and colorectal, that have solid tumours. It is through clinical trials conducted at The Ottawa Hospital that innovative treatments for more cancers will be discovered.

Organizations such as BioCanRx, the Canada Foundation for Innovation, and the Government of Ontario have supported The Ottawa Hospital’s CAR-T research and the Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre, but additional funding is essential to make this program a reality.


The Ottawa Hospital Foundation is raising money for cancer research like this, that is revolutionizing the care we provide patients.

More Great Stories

Four years after metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, every day is a gift
Jillian O’Connor was 18 weeks pregnant when she was diagnosed with breast cancer and given less than two years to live. In February, she celebrated the fourth birthday of her healthy baby boy and continues to live life to the fullest.
Clinical trial means new options for colorectal cancer patients
Sandy Patenaude participated in a clinical trial of a cancer stem cell inhibitor drug, which successfully prevented her cancer from growing. As a result, doctors are able to determine which patients might benefit from the drug.
Natural killer cells could be immunotherapy game-changer
Scientist discovers other immune cells that have the potential to make immunotherapy treatments work for more people, and more types of cancers.

Platinum seeds planted to transform CyberKnife treatment

Made-in-Ottawa platinum seeds are improving an already incredibly powerful and precise radiosurgery treatment system for tumours in the head, neck, and organs, such as lungs and liver.

The “seeds” are one millimetre by three millimetres, a third the size of a grain of rice, and made of platinum. These tiny seeds, created by researchers at The Ottawa Hospital, improve the CyberKnife robot’s accuracy in detecting and delivering precise doses of radiation to tumours in the brain and body.

Hand holding a grain of rice and platinum seed
Platinum seeds, a third the size of a grain of rice, are improving the accuracy of CyberKnife treatments.

CyberKnife uses X-rays and complex precision software to track and focus radiation directly to the tumour. With accuracy of less than a millimetre, there is virtually no radiation spill over to normal tissue. As a result, patients have much better responses to this type of treatment compared with traditional radiation where a larger area is targeted.

“Because CyberKnife delivers a high dose, it’s considered similar to surgery without using a scalpel, so no blood loss, no pain, no ICU stay, or recovery time,” said Dr. Vimoj Nair, one of the radiation oncologists trained to prescribe CyberKnife treatment.

Ninety percent of CyberKnife treatments are for malignant or benign brain tumours, but CyberKnife’s image guidance system can also treat tumours in organs that move constantly, such as the lungs, kidneys, liver, prostate gland, and lymph nodes. It can precisely align the radiation beam to the tumour even when it moves. But radiation oncologists and researchers at The Ottawa Hospital are refining techniques to further enhance the performance of this state-of-the-art technology to improve patients’ outcomes. These techniques are ultimately changing radiosurgery practice.

Dr. Vimoj Nair
Radiation oncologist Dr. Vimoj Nair said platinum seeds improve the accuracy of CyberKnife radiosurgery.

“One unique thing that the CyberKnife research team at The Ottawa Hospital has come up with are in-house designed platinum MRI-compatible seeds that can be implanted around the moving tumour,” said Dr. Nair, who is also a clinician investigator at The Ottawa Hospital and an assistant professor at University of Ottawa. “We can see the tumour and the seeds better on the MRI, and the CyberKnife software can detect and track the motion of the tumour with the help of these seeds. The robotic arm of the CyberKnife matches the target motion to treat the tumour more accurately while the patient breaths normally.”

The Ottawa Hospital is one of the first centres in North America to use these platinum seeds. In the past, oncologists used tiny gold seeds, but they were difficult to see in the MRI sequences used to view the tumour. This made the treatment planning less accurate. Dr. Janos Szanto, medical physicist, and Dr. Len Avruch, radiologist (now retired), were the initial brains who took platinum wire (otherwise destined to be jewelry), cut it into minute pieces, and then put through a sterilization process to ensure the seeds were appropriate for insertion into the human body. It worked. They were visible to the naked eye, more visible in an MRI than the gold seeds, and could be detected by CyberKnife.

Julie Gratton with patient beside CyberKnife robot
Radiation therapist Julie has delivered CyberKnife treatments since 2010.

“The benefit of this technique is we see both our target and seeds more clearly together, which provides the best use of advanced imaging and improves the accuracy,” said Dr. Nair, who called the discovery novel research and application that positions The Ottawa Hospital very favourably on the world stage.

Dr. Nair was the first author on the research paper published about the platinum seeds. He said that researchers and clinicians are continually sharing innovative CyberKnife techniques they’ve developed, like this one, at conferences and with other health centres across Canada and globally. In September 2018, he gave presentations on The Ottawa Hospital practices on clinical uses of CyberKnife at a conference in India.

“We can see the tumour and the seeds better on the MRI, and the CyberKnife software can detect and track the motion of the tumour with the help of these seeds.”

Read more about the history of the community-funded CyberKnife at The Ottawa Hospital.


The Ottawa Hospital is providing advanced treatment of benign and malignant tumours in inoperable places with state-of-the-art technology for the best possible patient outcomes.

More Great Stories

Inspired giving means more than giving to kidney research
When Phil Downey’s kidneys failed, his wife Gail, his three adult children and two step children “threw in the hat,” and volunteered to donate their kidney. Two generations were so inspired by the care Phil received that they then made a donation to kidney research at The Ottawa Hospital.
Extraordinary volunteer recognized with GG medal
Mike Baine’s extraordinary volunteerism with The Ottawa Hospital Foundation was recognized with a Governor General’s medal.
From patient to volunteer—’a little conversation could make a huge difference’
Two volunteers took Fran Cosper for a coffee when he was a patient at The Ottawa Hospital Rehab Centre and it inspired him to also volunteer when his condition allows.