A new era in breast health at The Ottawa Hospital

The Breast Health Centre at The Ottawa Hospital is committed to providing an exceptional level of care for our patients, approaching each case with medical excellence, practice, and compassion. Our reputation for world-leading research and patient care attracts to Ottawa some of the brightest and most capable health-care professionals in the world who help us deliver extraordinary care to patients in our community.

Making world-first discoveries and pushing the boundaries of breast cancer care and research right here in Ottawa

In front of a buzzing crowd of more than 200 generous contributors and tireless allies, the new Rose Ages Breast Health Centre at The Ottawa Hospital officially opened its doors on September 20, 2018. The event marked a thrilling close to an ambitious $14 million fundraising campaign.

Built and equipped through the unfailing generosity of our community, the Centre now houses an impressive suite of technologies that are among the latest and most comprehensive in Canada. Many of them enable more accurate and much less invasive diagnoses and treatments.

But more than just technology, the new Centre was designed as an inviting space to enhance wellness and connection to friends and family. It also allows patients to be closer to the specialists involved in their care, from before diagnosis to after treatment, and beyond. This means, thanks to donor support, more patients can be treated with therapies that are tailored to their unique circumstance.

A comprehensive breast health program to address growing need

The Ottawa Hospital offers a comprehensive breast centre, providing expertise in breast imaging, diagnosis, risk assessment, surgical planning, and psychosocial support.

The consolidation of four breast health centres spread out across the city down to two (the Rose Ages Breast Health Centre and Hampton Park), allow for more centralized services, less travel time, improved patient care and operational efficiencies.

This year alone, another 1,000 women in our region will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Thanks to the generous donor community in the Ottawa region, The Ottawa Hospital is already tackling this growing challenge and working hard to improve every aspect of breast cancer care with innovative research and the very best treatments and techniques.

“Your generosity has improved the largest breast centre in Canada,” said Dr. Seely. “We are now poised to lead the way for excellence in breast health care.”

The creation of REaCT

The Ottawa Hospital’s commitment to innovation and research is revolutionizing clinical trials, improving patient outcomes every day. Though clinical trials offer improved treatment options, less than three percent of cancer patients in Canada are enrolled in clinical trials. Part of the reason for low enrollment is the daunting prospect of lengthy paperwork each patient must fill out before becoming involved in a trial. As well, regulatory hurdles often make opening a new trial too expensive and time consuming. In response to these challenges, in 2014, Dr. Marc Clemons, medical oncologist and scientist, in collaboration with Dr. Dean Fergusson, Director of the Clinical Epidemiology Program, and their colleagues at The Ottawa Hospital, developed the Rethinking Clinical Trials or REaCT program as a way to make the process of enrollment in clinical trials easier and more efficient for cancer patients.

This ground-breaking program conducts practical patient-focused research to ensure patients receive optimal, safe and cost-effective treatments. Since REaCT isn’t investigating a new drug or a new therapy, but rather looks at the effectiveness of an existing therapy, regulatory hurdles are not an issue and patients can consent verbally to begin treatment immediately. By the end of 2017, this program enrolled more breast cancer patients in clinical trials than all other trials in Canada combined. Currently, there are more than 2,300 participants involved in various REaCT trials.

Drs Mark Clemons and Dean Fergusson developed the Rethinking Clinical Trials or REaCT program
Drs Mark Clemons and Dean Fergusson developed the Rethinking Clinical Trials or REaCT program

The Rose Ages Breast Health Centre 2018-2019 stats and facts

  • 49,288 diagnostic breast examinations and procedures
  • 2,397 breast biopsies
  • 5,129 breast clinic patient visits
  • 1,929 referrals to the Breast Clinic
  • 889 diagnosed breast cancer patients

Specialized patient care

Tanya O’Brian

Tanya O'Brien, cancer free for more than five years.

 

Five years ago, Tanya O’Brien received the news she had been afraid of all her life. Like her six family members before her, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Today, Tanya is cancer-free. When she thinks back to the 16 months of treatment she received at the Rose Ages Breast Health Center at The Ottawa Hospital, Tanya credits her dedicated and skilled care team for guiding her through and out of the darkest time in her life.

“We have come so far as a community in changing the narrative of breast cancer. We have given women like me, like us, so much hope,” said Tanya.

Rita Nattkemper

When a routine mammogram identified a small tumour, Rita Nattkemper was given an innovative option to mark its location for the surgery.

 

When a routine mammogram identified a small tumour, Rita Nattkemper was given an innovative option to mark its location for the surgery. A radioactive seed, the size of a pinhead, was injected directly into the tumour in her breast.

For years, an uncomfortable wire was inserted into a woman’s breast before surgery to pinpoint the cancer tumour. Today, a tiny radioactive seed is implanted instead, making it easier for surgeons to find and fully remove the cancer, and more comfortable for patients like Rita.

“It’s a painless procedure to get this radioactive seed in, and it helps the doctor with accuracy,” said Rita.

Marilyn Erdely

At the age of 29, Marilyn had a lumpectomy after receiving a stage zero breast cancer diagnosis.

 

At the age of 29, Marilyn had a lumpectomy after receiving a stage zero breast cancer diagnosis. She was confident she would be fine. But five years later, her cancer metastasized.

“Scans would reveal the cancer was throughout my body. I had significant cancer in the bones, in my femur, in my back, in my ovaries, and in my liver. I was head-to-toe cancer,” said Marilyn.

Oncologist Dr. Stan Gertler gave her hope for recovery. Within six months of her stage four diagnosis, Marilyn required several surgeries. But then things changed. She started feeling better, stronger.

Today, she is down to just a couple of one-centimeter tumours on her liver. Everything else is resolved. The cancer is dormant.

Breast Health Centre Update 2018-2019

More inspiring stories

Annette Gibbons

Annette Gibbons after speaking at The President's Breakfast.

 

‘I walked through my darkest fears and came out the other side.’

It would be a routine mammogram, which would turn Annette Gibbons’ world upside down. The public servant would soon begin her breast cancer journey, but she put her complete trust in her medical team at The Ottawa Hospital.

Vesna Zic-Côté

Vesna Coté imaged at her home.

 

The gift of time with family

Mom of three, Vesna, is living with terminal metastatic breast cancer. She is hoping clinical trials will continue to extend her life so she has more time with those she loves.

International research to find breast cancer sooner

The Ottawa Hospital is one of six sites in Canada participating in the Tomosynthesis Mammographic Imaging Screening Trial (TMIST), a randomized breast cancer screening trial that will help researchers determine the best ways to find breast cancer in women who have no symptoms, and whether a newer 3D imaging technique decreases the rate of advanced breast cancers.

The trial compares standard digital mammography (2D) with a newer technology called tomosynthesis mammography (3D). Conventional 2D mammography creates a flat image from pictures taken from two sides of the breast. With 3D mammography a 3D image is created from images taken at different angles around the breast.

Worldwide the study is expected to enroll around 165,000 patients over five years. With the new, increased mammography capacity at the Rose Ages Breast Health Centre we expect to enroll at least 1500 patients from our region.

Your impact

The Rose Ages Breast Health Centre at The Ottawa Hospital is committed to providing an exceptional level of care for patients, approaching each case with medical excellence, practice, and compassion. The Centre’s reputation for world-leading research and patient care attracts to Ottawa some of the brightest and most capable health-care professionals in the world who help deliver extraordinary care to patients in our community.

You continue to be a critical part of our success as we strive to redraw the boundaries of breast health care. On behalf of the thousands of patients and families who need The Ottawa Hospital, we thank you for your tremendous support and for your continued involvement.

Support from donors like you will ensure that our community has access to the medical advancements that are defining cancer care today.

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Immunotherapy eradicates cop’s melanoma

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 later, all scans showed his cancer was gone.

A melanoma diagnosis

The Ottawa Hospital, The Ottawa Hospital Foundation, Ian McDonell
Ian McDonell received immunotherapy in 2017, which erased any trace of his melanoma.

Several years ago, Ian McDonell, a Staff Sergeant with the Ottawa Police and father of three had just lost his father to cancer and his brother was dying of melanoma. 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 along with a lymph node from his left groin. Several weeks later, he had a lymph node removed from his armpit. Following these surgeries, he had no signs of cancer, but due to his family’s history, Ian was at high risk for relapse.

Sobering news

Ian was feeling well, but during a standard monitoring visit in June 2017, 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.

Given the severity of the findings, Dr. Michel Ong at The Ottawa Hospital suggested an aggressive approach – a recently approved immunotherapy treatment.

Unmasking cancer

Scientists have tried for decades to stimulate the immune system to attack cancer cells. But the game-changer was the discovery that cancer cells make key molecules, called immune checkpoint proteins, that suppress immune cells and prevent them from attacking the cancer. These immune checkpoint proteins cloak the cancer from the immune system. New drugs called immune checkpoint inhibitors remove this cloak and allow immune cells called T-cells 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.

“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

Ian McDonell with his wife Michelle (left), and their daughters Kendra, Macy, and Ainsley, hiking in the Adirondack Mountains in 2019.
Ian McDonell with his wife Michelle (left), and their daughters, hiking in the Adirondack Mountains in 2019.

CyberKnife treatment

Ian started on a combination of two immunotherapies given intravenously in the chemotherapy unit at The Ottawa Hospital’s Cancer Centre. He also underwent CyberKnife radiotherapy treatment where 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.

Shrinking tumours

When Ian began to develop weakness in his face, he worried his cancer was getting worse. It wasn’t. Scans showed one tumour had shrunk from 25 to 10 mm, and another had shrunk from eight to four mm.

Dr. Ong recommended trying a single immunotherapy rather than two, and while the treatment made Ian very sick, it did the trick.

Two months later, the results of a PET scan, MRI, and a CT scan showed that he was tumour-free. All trace of his cancer was gone.

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

Advances in immunotherapy

When Dr. Ong first met Ian in 2013, options for immunotherapy or targeted chemotherapy weren’t available. Thanks to incredible advances in immunotherapy, there is now hope.

“In the last few 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 continually 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 approximately 70 active cancer immunotherapy clinical trials being conducted at the hospital involving nearly 700 patients. The hospital also hosts a national network for immunotherapy research and has developed a number of unique immunotherapies made directly of cells and viruses.

Hope for the future

Because of successful immunotherapy treatments, patients like Ian are now planning a future of living cancer-free.

“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.’” said Ian.

More importantly, in addition to his career plans, immunotherapy has allowed Ian to plan for the future with his family and a chance to watch his daughters grow up.

Hear more about oncologist Dr. Michael Ong’s work with immunotherapy.

To support life-saving research at The Ottawa Hospital that helps patients like Ian, please donate.

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The gift of time with family

Mom of three, Vesna, is living with terminal metastatic breast cancer. She is hoping clinical trials will continue to extend her life so she has more time with those she loves.

Story by Vesna Zic-Côté 

Vesna Zic Cote“In 2012, I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer. Despite the standard treatment of surgery, chemotherapy, radiation and hormonal treatment, the cancer returned four years later, having spread to my lungs, bones and lymph nodes.

I received my diagnosis of incurable stage 4 metastatic breast cancer on my son’s birthday. He was nine.

My world as I knew it ended. I was sitting upstairs on my bed. I could hear the kids playing downstairs. I called my husband at work and he came home and we cried.

It is a tradition in our home that on our kids’ birthdays, we go out to a restaurant of their choosing for dinner. So on the day my world ended, I sat in a restaurant and ordered some food and tried to eat cardboard, but couldn’t get the food to go down. I looked at the birthday boy and held the tears in, and my heart shattered in a million pieces.

Metastatic breast cancer is treatable, but not curable. When I was first diagnosed, my life expectancy was being measured in months. Now with cautious hope, it might be a few years. I go to the Hospital every 28 days to get injections. They are part of a series of targeted treatments I receive to keep the cancer cells at bay. One day, the cancer will figure out how to grow despite this treatment, and I will move onto something else. And I’ll continue this endless cycle of treatments and scans and progression and change until I am out of options. But I am a 43-year-old mother. And wife. And daughter. And sister. I need more time. Time to see my young children through elementary school. Time to watch my family grow and share in all the joys that life brings. Time to celebrate anniversaries with my husband and birthdays with my niece and nephews. Time with my beloved family and friends.

There is so much that needs to happen to make this a reality for me. I will need new treatments when my current regimen stops working – because it will stop working. I need research in cancer therapies and a health-care system that is streamlined and accessible.

Sadly, early detection does not prevent all cancers from returning and spreading. We need research to understand why, and treatment to extend our lives.

When I was first diagnosed, my focus was limited, directed inwards, focused on those dearest to me. During that time of learning about this new world, I absorbed every detail I could about metastatic breast cancer; living with metastatic breast cancer, treating metastatic breast cancer, dying metastatic breast cancer. A few names came to the forefront; those making noise, shifting opinions, moving the dial on research and progress. Months into treatment, when I could finally breathe again, I knew that I wanted to be part of this movement, part of the noise, part of the shift. I needed to validate this situation that I didn’t ask for in order to accept that it was part of my story whether I liked it or not.

For now, I have energy to cast outward. Not every day, but some days. Writing, fundraising, speaking, meeting. And I would say that the way I live my life has influenced my children who actively participate in my fundraising efforts with enthusiasm. They don’t need to feel embarrassed that their mom has cancer. Instead, they can feel like they are doing something to help me by climbing trees and selling apples, doing presentations on their fundraising efforts, wearing pink laces, and making signs, helping the doctors and researchers to find better medicines. Regardless of where we eventually land, I want them to be able to look back on all the good things that they did, and know that their efforts warmed many, many hearts… mine most of all.

On behalf of all of us living with incurable cancer – finding joy between injections and scans and blood work and appointments, living with hope and making a difference – thank you for your support.”

– Vesna

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

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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 lost her battle with cancer and passed away on September 30, 2019. The following story was written earlier this year as she bravely faced her diagnosis and lived each day with courage and hope.

“Jillian was a true champion of The Ottawa Hospital. She not only shared her story to encourage and inspire others, but she reminded us that every day is a gift to be cherished. Jillian’s enthusiasm for life and positivity in the face of adversity was evident as she poured herself into her family and continued to move forward with hope. We are deeply saddened by her loss and offer our most heartfelt condolences to her husband, her three children, extended family, and friends. All of us at the Foundation remain profoundly moved by her determination, strength, and bravery.”

— Tim Kluke, President and CEO of The Ottawa Hospital Foundation

Original Story

 

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, diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer

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 IV, 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.

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.

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Stem cell treatment banishes disease for MS patient

John Chafe had a job in a bank with the goal of running it one day. But his plans were sidetracked by  an aggressive form of  multiple sclerosis (MS).  In 2001, he became the second person in a world-first clinical trial  of its kind  that virtually eliminated  any new  MS  activity and stabilized his disease.

A strange thing happened before John Chafe started working in Kenora in 1993. His eyes crossed. He didn’t know it at the time, but it was the first sign of a debilitating disease.

His family doctor told him he had the flu and prescribed antibiotics. But after a week, when his eyes remained crossed, he bought an eye patch and drove five hours from Thunder Bay to fill the temporary posting at a bank in Kenora. A week later, his eyes straightened and returned to normal.

“I had a transfer to Niagara Falls a few months later. I then started have difficulties walking straight. I completely failed a simple balance beam experiment at the Ontario Science Centre,” said John. “I mentioned these symptoms to a friend, who mentioned them to a friend, who fortunately happened to be Dr. Heather MacLean, a neurologist at The Ottawa Hospital.”

She said these symptoms sounded like multiple sclerosis (MS), an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks its own central nervous system, brain, and spinal cord. John needed an MRI and spinal tap to properly diagnose his symptoms. He was back in Thunder Bay, but the hospital there did not yet have an MRI machine, so he had to go to Duluth, Minnesota. In April 1995, John took his MRI to an appointment with neurologist and multiple sclerosis specialist Dr. Mark Freedman at The Ottawa Hospital. Dr. Freedman confirmed the diagnosis. John had multiple sclerosis.

“The first actual drug licensed for MS didn’t come into effect in Canada until 1995, and there was nothing available to patients then,” said Dr. Freedman who is also a senior scientist at the hospital and professor of medicine in the field of neurology at the University of Ottawa. “John did take that first drug, interferon, as soon as it was available. He tried at least one other interferon for a while, but the writing was on the wall that he would’ve done very poorly in the absence of something miraculous. His MS was very aggressive.”

John had originally gone to Lakehead University in Thunder Bay because he was an active outdoor enthusiast: seriously into rock climbing and downhill skiing. However, John realized that a career in the financial industry was more lucrative than being a ski instructor. He graduated with degrees in business and economics, and working in banking supported his outdoor activities.

John Chafe skiing
John Chafe skiing at Blackcomb just after diagnosis in 1994.

John didn’t give up his active lifestyle after being diagnosed, either. Despite the fact that he was having MS exacerbations (an attack that causes new MS symptoms, or worsens old symptoms) every eight months. He returned to Thunder Bay and opened a rock climbing gym, thinking, “MS is not going to affect me.”

But it did. It completely sidetracked his life. In 1998, the then 30-year-old sold his rock climbing business and transferred to a branch in Ottawa.

John Chafe rock climbing
John Chafe rock climbing outside Thunder Bay in 1994 after his MS diagnosis.

After suffering another MS exacerbation, John realized it was becoming more difficult for him to get out to see clients for financial planning sessions.

“I was stumbling along and thought, ‘How can I ask them to trust me with their money?’ My MS was getting worse and worse,” said John. “I needed a desk job, so I went into computer programming.”

His regular treatments weren’t helping either. He needed a miracle.

One day, John heard Dr. Freedman on the radio talking about an innovative stem cell transplant study that he described as akin to pressing reboot on the immune system. Dr.Freedman was working with hematologist and scientist Dr. Harold Atkins (also a professor of medicine at University of Ottawa) to see if a groundbreaking treatment would halt an aggressive form of MS.

Dr. Harold Atkins and Dr. Mark Freedman
Dr. Harold Atkins and Dr. Mark Freedman conducted an innovative stem cell treatment for MS that has halted the disease in over 50 patients

Coincidentally, John had an appointment with Dr. Freedman that afternoon. He told him he was very interested in participating in the study. Dr. Freedman agreed he might be a candidate because he was young, generally healthy, and his symptoms were quickly getting worse.

“If you saw his trajectory, how fast he was becoming disabled going into the transplant.  He should’ve been completely wheelchair bound, or worse, within two to three years,” said Dr Freedman.

John was willing to try an experimental treatment that had the potential to change that trajectory. “MS robbed me of my ability to climb, ski, and walk. I said I’m gonna take a chance.”

“John was very enthusiastic. That was a very important facet of his recovery,” said Dr. Freedman. “John has never been a quitter. He’s a stubborn guy. His goal was someday to end up on the ski hill again.”

For almost a year, John underwent the exhaustive testing by Dr. Atkins and Marjorie Bowman, the bone marrow transplant nurse, to see if he was physically suitable for the clinical trial. They  also  wanted to ensure he was mentally prepared to go through the  intensive  trial  treatment and accept the risks, which included  death.

“This is fundamentally different than every other treatment,” said Dr. Atkins. “What we’re doing is getting rid of the old immune system and creating a new one that behaves more appropriately.”

“MS robbed me of my ability to climb, ski, and walk. I said I’m gonna take a chance.”

Replacing his immune system was a rigorous procedure.  John  would undergo intensive chemotherapy to help eliminate his immune system. There was a possibility of  chemo-induced infertility, so he banked some sperm.  In November 2001, he  was first given  a  dose of chemotherapy to stimulate and move his  stem cells into his blood stream.  These stem cells were then collected  and cleansed of any traces of MS.

A  month later,  John was given huge doses of chemo  in an  attempt to  destroy  his immune system. He said he  started getting weaker and weaker, and felt like death warmed over.  On December 13, 2001, after the chemo  had wiped out his immune system,  John had the cleansed stem cells  re-infused by an  intravenous  drip.

“I didn’t feel  better immediately,” said John, who had become just the second patient in the world to undergo a stem-cell transplant of this kind  for multiple sclerosis.  “But  I started getting stronger in the days following, so much so that  Dr.  Atkins released  me on Christmas Eve.” He  spent three months living with his parents. By spring, he was ready to move back into his own home again.

Dr. Freedman said that he and Dr. Atkins had anticipated that by rebooting  MS patients’  immune systems, they fully expected the disease was going to restart.

“At  that time, genetic researchers said, ‘If people are genetically prone to develop MS, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. They’re going to keep redeveloping MS,’” said Dr. Freedman. “If that was true, it would be a matter of time before people started having active disease again.”

Dr. Freedman explained that nobody knew what causes MS.  He and Dr.  Harold  Atkins hoped that through the trial they  could reboot  a  patient’s  immune system and monitor it  with all  the  latest immune  system  monitoring  and  imaging technology,  and then watch  as the  disease restarted and discover  the  secret of what triggers MS. However,  none of  the 24 patients in the  trial  developed  new symptoms of  MS  again.

“In that respect,  the trial  was a failure. It halted their disease and in some cases their disabilities went away too,” said  Dr. Freedman. “We’ve followed these patients for 18 years, and nobody’s developed anything.”

“Those patients at the beginning, like John, are probably the bravest because there were more unknowns about the treatment,” said Dr. Atkins. “Each patient we’ve treated over the years has taught us something, but we learned more from the early patients at that time.”

Prior to his stem cell transplant, John had a final  exacerbation,  which crippled him. After  the transplant, his MS did  not return. John  remained  healthy, but the damage  caused by the disease  wasn’t reversed and he still walks using a cane and walker.

“You almost wonder what would’ve happened to John if  he’d  had  the transplant five  years earlier,” said Dr. Freedman. “Today, when we see a patient that has the same profile as John’s, we offer them the stem cell treatment. We’re not waiting years. We’ve become more savvy, able to pick out individuals who warrant this aggressive  approach.”

John Chafe with his daughter Mary and wife Patricia
John Chafe with his daughter Mary and wife Patricia in 2013.

About 77,000 Canadians live with MS. However, only five percent of patients with MS warrant a stem cell transplant. They are generally young and have the most aggressive and debilitating forms of the disease.

After his transplant, nothing was going to hold John down. Three years later, John met Patricia, and they married in 2005. Five years later, his beautiful daughter Mary was born.

“I recall that as Mary started moving more, she motivated me to get more active again. She became my personal trainer,” said John. “I joined the Canadian Association of Disabled Skiing. I was terrible at first because I didn’t have the strength.  But I’m stubborn and refused to give up, and today I can ski independently for hours – albeit with outriggers for balance.”

John Chafe skiing with his family
John Chafe, Mary and Patricia skiing at Edelweiss in 2016.

“I saw John a few years ago. The problem with this business is patients get better and so I don’t see them much afterwards,” said Dr. Atkins. “I do remember him showing me pictures of his young baby, and pictures of him on the ski slope. It is exciting to hear that people can have these treatments and go skiing again.”

Although John and 23 others participated in the clinical trial, 56 MS patients have now undergone this innovative stem cell transplant therapy. The made-in-Ottawa treatment has halted all relapses and three quarters of patients have not had further disabilities develop. Even more impressive is the fact that 40 percent of patients had recovery from some of their disabilities. People who are interested in this therapy should speak with their own neurologist, who can request a referral to The Ottawa Hospital MS Clinic. Other hospitals in Canada are also starting to set up similar programs, based on the success in Ottawa.

“I’m not a bank president, but my life is better than incredible. I ski, I dance with my wife, and have an eight-year-old daughter,” said John. “Because Dr. Freedman and Dr. Atkins were persistent about finding the answers to stop a disease like MS, they saved my life.”

The following video focuses on Jennifer Molson who was also one of the early patients on the MS clinical trial, and includes interviews with Drs. Atkins and Freedman.


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 multiple sclerosis and other devastating diseases.

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Regenerative medicine and stem cell research

The Ottawa Hospital’s Regenerative Medicine Program is a major centre for the growing area of stem cell research. It is home to more than 250 research staff, working under the leadership of world-renowned stem cell biologist Dr. Michael Rudnicki.

The Challenge

Can human stem cells be harnessed to rebuild the heart after a heart attack? Restore vision to the blind? Reconnect a broken spinal cord? This is the promise of regenerative medicine and the life’s work of more than 250 scientists, clinical investigators, trainees, and staff in The Ottawa Hospital’s Regenerative Medicine Program. Today our teams relentlessly pursue answers to the world’s most challenging health care problems. Tomorrow holds even greater promise as our researchers harness regenerative medicine to pioneer made-in-Ottawa personalized therapies and treatments. Our big ideas are becoming the future of patient care and people are turning to us to solve the world’s greatest health care challenges.

Our Vision

Our researchers continue to discover and harness the incredible power of human stem cells to rebuild, repair, and heal a wide range of medical issues. Stem cells offer the potential to repair the heart after a heart attack, restore vision to the blind, reconnect a broken spinal cord, regenerate brain tissue after a stroke, repair damaged insulin-producing tissue in diabetics, and heal tissues damaged by severe infectious diseases.

We are leading the world in developing new therapies that use living cells and viruses to treat disease. Our groundbreaking work includes numerous world-first clinical trials of cancer-fighting viruses and stem cells. We’re also exploring gene-enhancing stem cells to repair a heart after a heart attack, stem cells to treat septic shock and exosomes, previously thought to be cellular junk, that may be able to help us understand, diagnose, and treat acute myeloid leukemia.

Our patients deserve the best and need us to continue to innovate and provide hope, and our global partners expect nothing less from us.

“We’re entering a new era. More and more we are going to see regenerative medicine use cellular and molecular tools to treat devasting diseases with no current therapy.” – Dr. Michael Rudnicki, Director, Regenerative Medicine Program and Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research

World Firsts

Dr. Duncan Stewart, CEO & Scientific Director, OHRI

2013

Launched the first clinical trial of a gene-enhancing stem cell therapy to repair the heart after a heart attack.

Dr. Atkins and Dr. Freedman

2014

First to use stem cells to send “stiff person syndrome” into long-term remission.

Dr. Lauralyn MacIntyre

2017

Pioneered the use of stem cells to fight deadly septic shock infection, using stem cells to halt the sepsis and repair damage to affected organs.

Why The Ottawa Hospital

The Ottawa Hospital’s Regenerative Medicine Program is a major centre for the growing area of stem cell research. The program includes the Sinclair Centre for Regenerative Medicine, the Sprott Centre for Stem Cell Research, the Vision Research Centre, and also serves as headquarters for Canada’s Stem Cell Network.

A multidisciplinary culture makes our Regenerative Medicine Program unique in Canada, if not the world. Here, developmental, cell, and molecular biologists work together with bioinformaticists, clinical scientists, and clinicians, in teams and common facilities. Collectively they leverage each other’s work to impact clinical care and translate new discoveries into treatments that can be tested in clinical trials. In fact, the Ottawa Hospital is one of the largest research hospitals in Canada with more than 600 active clinical trials.

Your Impact

According to Dr. Michael Rudnicki, Director of The Ottawa Hospital’s Regenerative Medicine Program, “Stem cell research in Canada is now reaching the point where clinical practice will be impacted in exciting and unforeseen ways.” Thanks to the generous support of our donors, world-class researchers are making discoveries, developing new treatments, and transforming lives–in short, revolutionizing the care we provide patients–every day.

You can have a profound impact in the revolutionary world of regenerative medicine. Your support of The Ottawa Hospital’s Regenerative Medicine Program propels forward our researchers who are working to discover and harness the power of human stem cells to rebuild, repair, and heal a wide range of medical issues.

“Caring for a newborn with severe sepsis is heartbreaking. Current treatments are limited, and antibiotic resistance makes it even more difficult to treat…What we see in the lab is very promising. We think stem cells are going to be a game-changer for these babies.” – Dr. Bernard Thébaud, Senior Scientist, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Dr. Daniel Coutu, Research Chair, Regenerative Orthopaedic Surgery
Dr. Daniel Coutu, Research Chair, Regenerative Orthopaedic Surgery

Star researcher in regenerative medicine helps blaze a trail to effectively halt the degenerative process

“Ottawa is the place to be for stem cell research,” said Dr. Daniel Coutu. He should know. He’s a bone stem cell expert recruited from Switzerland.

Dr. Coutu leads research to help understand how bone regenerates, repairs, and heals. He also investigates the impact trauma, aging, and chronic degeneration has on bones.

Dr. Coutu was part of a team in Switzerland that took on this challenge and developed microscopy techniques to enable scientists to analyze bone and see where stem cells are and what they do. “Because of these techniques, we are just starting to understand the fundamental biology of bone stem cells,” he said.

Dr. Coutu is now the inaugural holder of the Research Chair in Regenerative Orthopaedic Surgery, and based at The Ottawa Hospital’s Sinclair Centre for Regenerative Medicine.

Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cells Research Update

Stems cells make dream come true

When Jennifer Molson was 21 years old, she dreamed of becoming a police officer, marrying her boyfriend and dancing at her wedding. Those dreams were shattered when she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Over a period of six years she had multiple relapses. She was in a wheelchair, unable to work, and looking for a miracle. That’s when Drs. Mark Freedman and Harry Atkins from the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute told her about an experimental treatment using stem cells. Jennifer became the sixth patient in a groundbreaking clinical trial during which stem cells were extracted from her bone marrow and transplanted back into her body. Jennifer found her miracle. Today she no longer needs a wheelchair. She is off medication, works full time, and leads an independent life. And, yes, she married her boyfriend and danced at her wedding.

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

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Parkinson Research at The Ottawa Hospital

Parkinson’s disease is the second most common neurodegenerative disease after Alzheimer’s, affecting at least 100,000 Canadians. Only through a better understanding of the basic mechanisms that cause it can effective treatments be developed.

Imagine not being able to control a trembling in your hands and limbs, the inability to speak loudly, losing your sense of smell, dealing with unexplained pains. Unfortunately, these are just a few of the symptoms affecting Parkinson’s disease patients every day.

More than 100,000 Canadians live with Parkinson’s, including 8,000 here in Ottawa. Parkinson’s is a progressive neurodegenerative disease that primarily affects voluntary, controlled movement. The exact cause of the disease is unknown. Discovered almost 200 years ago, there is still no cure or proven treatment available to slow its relentless progression. People can develop Parkinson’s disease at any time in their life.

“Our society will be faced with many more patients with Parkinson’s over the decades to come. In many ways Parkinson’s is complicated and also complex. I strongly believe that although it’s complex and complicated, we can solve that riddle. We have the expertise in Canada to make a major contribution to a cure for this disease.” – Dr. Michael Schlossmacher, Senior Scientist, The Ottawa Hospital Canada Research Chair in Parkinson Disease and Translational Neuroscience

PIPR logo in red on white background

Partners Investing in Parkinson Research (PIPR)

In 2009, a group of investment advisors from the Ottawa financial community formed Partners Investing in Parkinson Research (PIPR). The group set a goal of raising $1 million in support of research to better understand and diagnose Parkinson’s. Over seven years, it has successfully raised more than $1,000,000.

Co-chaired by Roberta Driscoll of RBC Dominion Securities and Kim Teron of Teron Inc., PIPR members reach out to the community at large to raise vital funds to support leading edge Parkinson Research at The Ottawa Hospital.

PIPR has provided important base funding to the scientists, allowing them to leverage further grants. The advancements have been impressive. PIPR has not only helped to fund research for the treatment and cure of Parkinson’s disease, it has galvanized the community to support the cause that previously received little attention. Above all, the PIPR team has given hope to those who live with this unremitting disease.

In 2019, team PIPR is fundraising in support of Dr. Maxime Rousseaux’s Parkinson’s research at The Ottawa Hospital. Click here to read more about how Dr. Rousseaux’s research is helping us develop more effective treatments for this disease.

See us on CTV and in the Kitchissippi Times – PIPR. Click here to read more about PIPR.

Parkinson Research at The Ottawa Hospital

Researchers at The Ottawa Hospital and the University of Ottawa came together in 2004 to form the Parkinson Research Consortium under the leadership of Dr. David Grimes and Dr. David Park. The consortium brings together clinicians and scientists from various disciplines to improve our understanding of Parkinson’s disease, conduct novel and innovative research, and develop new treatment options, with the ultimate goal of developing a cure.

Parkinson Research Update

Recent Milestones

  • Developments in understanding how genes contribute to onset and progression of the disease.
  • Development of innovative therapeutic strategies including targeted gene therapy.
  • Development of an experimental spinal fluid test to improved diagnosis.
  • Discovery of a new genetic mutation that makes some people more susceptible to this disease.
  • Development of a new mouse model that mimics a familial form of early on-set Parkinson’s disease.
  • Publication of Canada’s first Parkinson’s care guidelines.

Support Parkinson Research

Support the ongoing research efforts by making an online donation, or by calling 613-761-4295. For more information about the research or how to join the team, contact Margot Ault, Manager, Philanthropy, at 613-798-5555, ext. 19819, or [email protected].

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

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

Remember Mary
Jun 24 - 2019 — Mark Lawrenson, in a touching tribute to his late wife Mary, is kicking off a 6,000km cycling tour across Canada and the United States to raise funds for breast cancer research.
THE RIDE
Sep 08 - 2019 — DO THE RIDE and cycle for world-leading advancements in research at The Ottawa Hospital. There is the perfect distance for any cyclist: closed route, open route or try the Virtual Ride.
Run for a Reason
May 23 - 2020 — Run for a Reason at Tamarack Ottawa Race Weekend and do it all in support of advancing patient care and research at The Ottawa Hospital.

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Patients key to CAR-T clinical trial success

The Ottawa Hospital has developed a made-in-Canada approach for experimental CAR-T cancer treatment, and will lead the way nationally in testing it in a clinical trial. Researchers at The Ottawa Hospital included patients in designing the clinical trial to make sure they get it right.

Designing clinical trials is something The Ottawa Hospital does very well. At the moment, it has over 611 active clinical trials—200 of which are cancer trials.

For patients in the region this can mean better access to some of the most cutting-edge treatments available. For the hospital it means not only better patient care but it creates a situation where the best minds in the world want to come here to work—to do more research alongside accomplished professionals, to develop better treatments and get closer to answering some of health-care’s biggest questions.

“A lot of the clinical trial expertise is here,” said Dr. Manoj Lalu, associate scientist, and anaesthesiologist at The Ottawa Hospital and assistant professor at the University of Ottawa. “It’s well recognized that Ottawa is a world leader in clinical trials and innovative trial designs. A lot of the guidelines produced internationally around trial design and reporting originate from The Ottawa Hospital.”

The Ottawa Hospital is now putting all this expertise to work to design and launch a made-in-Canada approach for CAR-T cell clinical trials.

Drs. Manoj Lalu and Dean Fergusson
Drs. Manoj Lalu and Dean Fergusson developed a protocol for the upcoming CAR-T cell clinical trial.

Drs. Manoj Lalu and Dean Fergusson are working with Dr. Natasha Kekre and others to make sure that the upcoming CAR-T cell clinical trials led by The Ottawa Hospital are successful.

They have created a rigorous program, assessing current information about the therapy, looking at data and chart reviews from different health science centres, investigating the costs, and reviewing production. The team also interviewed patients because they realized how important it was to understand what the barriers might be for patients to enter a clinical trial.

“We’ve found that researchers dramatically overestimate the potential number of patients there are and the factors affecting them,” said Dr. Fergusson, Director of The Ottawa Hospital’s Clinical Epidemiology Program, professor at the University of Ottawa and President-Elect of the international Society for Clinical Trials. “They all assume patients want to be part of a new therapy. But we’ve shown that is not the case.”

Dr. Fergusson said there are many things that affect recruitment of patients to a clinical trial. The distance a patient must travel to participate in a trial, or their family or caregiver situation are factors influencing their decision. So, when Drs. Fergusson and Lalu were designing the trial, they assembled a team of people who were involved in both the creation and delivery of the therapy, such as the scientists and clinicians, while also including the patients, who would ultimately receive the therapy, as members of the team.

“Patient input has been essential to designing the clinical trial from the very beginning,” said Dr. Fergusson. “A patient panel helped create the information and consent forms that help patients understand the trial. So, when the actual patient who would be eligible for the trial reads this, there will have been others, not just researchers, who have looked at this.”

“Patient input has been essential to designing the clinical trial from the very beginning.”

Ottawa broadcaster ‘Stuntman’ Stu Schwartz, who was treated for leukemia at The Ottawa Hospital, is one of the patient partners involved. Stefany Dupont is the only patient involved who had CAR-T cell therapy. Patient partners also helped determine outcomes that the researchers will be looking at in the CAR-T cell therapy trial.  Patient partners, such as Stu and Stefany, give valuable feedback on the design of the clinical trial, on the wording of information, and some of the processes that will help patients understand the study.

“They tell us if they understand, or if this doesn’t make sense, or ask, ‘Can you clarify this?’,” said Dr. Lalu. “It’s other patients, with the experience of having had a blood cancer, that really informs the whole process for the patients who will be enrolled.”

As with most trials designed at The Ottawa Hospital, patient care is embedded in it, with its design mimicking practice in the clinic and standard referral patterns. What makes The Ottawa Hospital exceptional is the way clinical trials are built from the ground up; including the right people at the right time, and most of all giving patients the opportunity to weigh in on everything from communication and recruitment to delivery options.

Drs. Fergusson and Lalu are also applying our concepts of building clinical trials to other problems, including post-surgical heart problems, stroke, and neonatal lung disease.

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.


“Patient input has been essential to designing the clinical trial from the very beginning,”

— Dr. Fergusson

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