London researchers net over $8.6 million in CIHR funding

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) announced more than $8.6 million in research funding through their project grants program for 13 projects across Western University and Lawson Health Research Institute (Lawson).

Funded research projects range from the role of dynamic DNA methylation in gene regulation and cancer, to the surveillance of HIV outbreaks, and a randomized controlled trial for the Hockey Fans in Training Program.

Dr. James Koropatnick and his research team have been funded for a project that aims to improve cancer immunotherapy. Immunotherapy works by helping a patient’s own immune system recognize and kill cancer cells that make unusual molecules called neoantigens. However, some patients do not respond well to immunotherapeutic drugs. This is because their cancer cells reduce the number of neoantigens so that immune cells cannot recognize them.

Dr. Koropatnick and his team will work to make immunotherapy effective for more patients by forcing cancer cells to make more neoantigens. They discovered this can be done by damaging the cancer cells’ ability to repair their own DNA.

Dr. James Koropatnick

Above: Dr. James Koropatnick

The team is now making new molecules that target the exact steps in cancer cell DNA repair, including a specific kind called ‘DNA mismatch repair.’ These molecules will offer a potential new drug to combine with immunotherapeutic drugs already in use. The goal is to make immunotherapy work effectively in a majority of cancer patients.

“The concept of targeting cancer cell DNA repair and particularly DNA mismatch repair was co-developed by me and Dr. Saman Maleki, a very talented research associate in my laboratory,” says Dr. Koropatnick, a scientist at Lawson and professor in the Departments of Oncology, Microbiology and Immunology, Physiology and Pharmacology, and Pathology at Schulich School of Medicine & Dentistry, Western University. “With the assistance of cancer immunology experts Dr. Weiping Min and Dr. Xiufen Zheng, this funding will help our work towards new therapies that will make immunotherapy effective for a far greater number of patients. This includes patients with extremely dangerous and hard-to-treat tumours.”

Congratulations to all of the successful applicants:

  • Frederick Dick - Epigenetic regulation of repeat expression by RB and EZH2 in cancer
  • Jimmy Dikeakos - HIV-1 Nef-Host Interactions Mediating Immune Evasion and Pathogenesis
  • Jefferson Frisbee and Kevin Shoemaker - Sex-based protection from systemic vasculopathy with chronic stress and depressive symptoms.
  • Paul Gribble - Sensory Motor Neuroplasticity and Motor Learning by Observing (Funded through the Faculty of Social Science, Western University)
  • Mansour Haeryfar - Functional Roles and Therapeutic Potentials of Invariant NKT Cells in Sepsis
  • James Koropatnick – Inducing Mismatch Repair Deficiency in Cancer Cells for Therapeutic Benefit (Funded through Lawson Health Research Institute)
  • Stephen Lomber - Contributions of the Ventral Auditory Cortical Pathway to Auditory Cognition
  • Elysee Nouvet - BEYOND IDEALS: Ethical and practical complexities of informed consent and compensation in Global Health Research (Funded through the Faculty of Health Sciences, Western University)
  • Robert Petrella and Arya Sharma - Hockey Fans in Training (Hockey FIT): A pragmatic cluster randomized controlled trial of a gender-sensitized weight loss and healthy lifestyle program for men who are overweight or obese
  • Art Poon - Development, evaluation and implementation of genetic clustering methods for the real-time molecular surveillance of HIV outbreaks
  • Art Poon - Phylodynamics of HIV within hosts
  • Joseph Torchia - The role of dynamic DNA methylation in gene regulation and cancer
  • Akshya Vasudev – Sahaj Samadhi Meditation in treatment resistant late life depression: a randomized controlled trial (Funded through Lawson Health Research Institute)