Dr. Annette Hay
Associate Professor, Queen’s & Hematology Division Head, KHSC
VP Research, Queen’s University
Ground-breaking cancer treatment innovations like cell therapy are extraordinarily complex endeavours. It takes expertise from every corner of Canada to bring these scientific revolutions to the bedside. Queen’s University is where collaboration begins.
Medical research has always been an all-hands-on-deck proposition. Innovative new developments and discoveries that save lives and improve outcomes can originate in many places, from public hospitals to private industry. But the backbone of the research initiatives that engender transformative understanding and treatment for critical diseases like cancer remains our universities.
In Kingston, Queen’s University is a long-standing regional powerhouse of medical research, continually bringing forth incredible innovations in both the most fundamental scientific areas of inquiry and the very practical endeavours of clinical trials and treatment. “Queen’s is a research-intensive university that provides outstanding research training experiences across diverse disciplines,” says Queen’s University’s Vice-Principal Research, Dr. Nancy Ross. “It offers up a unique environment where interdisciplinary foundational research, clinical practice and knowledge mobilization for improved care and health outcomes takes place in a compact setting. New standards of care brought to light through research in real-world clinical settings can swiftly improve the patient experience and patient outcomes in our local hospitals and beyond.”
Our universities congregate creative and talented people who, together with their trainees, conduct curiosity-driven and applied research which contributes to improved patient care and quality of life
From campus to clinic: it’s a shorter journey than you might think
Directly across from Queen’s University’s iconic arboretum sits the Kingston Health Sciences Centre (KHSC), Southeastern Ontario’s largest acute-care academic hospital. And right beside it, the offices of the Canadian Cancer Trials Group. It is here that the country’s top medical experts gather, with the support of investigators across Canada, to answer the biggest questions about how we can collaborate to create real tangible progress on cancer outcomes.
And it is very much a collaboration, as exemplified in ExCELLirate Canada, a new framework for exploring the promising applications of cell therapy research across a wide variety of cancers and other illnesses. “ExCELLirate came about because of a mutual realization that there really is a lot of cell therapy expertise in Canada, but to a large extent, we had previously been functioning as islands,” says Clinician-Scientist Dr. Annette Hay, Associate Professor at Queen’s and Hematology Division Head at KHSC. “We realized that leveraging each other’s expertise and the resources already in place across the country, making sure we were not duplicating efforts, is the fastest, most efficient way to advance our scientific goals, which are all focused on improving the lives of people with cancer.”
The ExCELLirate program is focused on pulling down barriers of funding, time, and siloed knowledge, clearing the path for astonishing advances in cell therapy to become accessible and implementable around the country. The science of cell therapy, which empowers the body’s own immune system to fight cancer with personalized medicine, is truly game changing. But those who need it most can’t afford to wait. “The potential is very real and there is urgency here,” says Dr. Hay. “Cell therapy treatment has been proven to work. It has cured some patients in whom all other treatments — including bone marrow transplant, chemotherapy, and radiation — failed. The big challenge is figuring out how to make it affordable and accessible for the patients who need it and that’s the focus of ExCELLirate Canada research.”
In this, as in every aspect of medical research, it is our universities that provide the agile hubs of scientific expertise and applied ingenuity that make collaborative progress possible. “Our universities congregate creative and talented people who, together with their trainees, conduct curiosity-driven and applied research which contributes to improved patient care and quality of life,” says Ross. “A continued commitment by Canadian universities and their affiliated hospitals to research and training of the next generation in the full range of health research from cell to society is foundational to the improved health of Canadians.”