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Engaging the community

[Queen's Cancer Research Institute]
Chris O'Callaghan, a senior investigator at NCIC Clinical Trials Group, makes a presentation during a special open house that was held recently for the Queen’s Cancer Research Institute. (University Communications)

Each day at the Queen's Cancer Research Institute there is amazing work being done in support of the battle against cancer.

Yet, it seems, few people realize that one of the most remarkable cancer research institutes in the world is hosted right here at Queen’s and Kingston.

Changing that is one of the mandates for David Berman, who was appointed as the executive director of the Queen’s Cancer Research Institute (QCRI) at the beginning of this year.

“We’re not the place that people first think of when they think of cancer research in Canada but maybe we can get to that point,” he says.

Looking to increase the QCRI’s profile locally an open house event was held recently where members of the Canadian Cancer Society (CCS) and donors were given a behind-the-scenes look at where the research is being done – from population studies of cancer etiology, through tumor biology and clinical trials, to outcomes and health services research.

Attendees heard about research that is being funded by the CCS from the researchers themselves, including Chris Booth, Andrew Craig, Chris O’Callaghan, Chris Mueller, Lois Mulligan, who organized the event, and Elizabeth Eisenhauer, head of the Department of Oncology, and PhD candidate Mat Crupi.

The presentations, which covered a wide array of projects and forms of research, were eye-opening and inspiring and provided insight into why QCRI is such an important piece to the cancer battle.

“We have world-class people doing cutting-edge research,” says Dr. Berman. “We have a structure that is really unusual where we integrate the different sides of cancer research particularly well in the same building and we have a really strong track record in combining clinical care with basic and clinical research.”

The QCRI utilizes a collaborative approach, Dr. Berman explains, which helps ensure that the work being done actually benefits patients.

“There’s a strong history here and tremendous abilities to make a difference in cancer research both through new treatments and paradigms like immune checkpoint inhibitors – taking the brakes off the immune system. We’re exploring new possibilities with large genomic studies and big data analysis tools where we’re collaborating with people in computing and other departments to make sense of these huge amounts of information that we’re getting on cancer,” Dr. Berman explains.

The QCRI has built an impressive reputation with breakthrough studies and a leading clinical trials group. With that foundation, the institute has been able to attract top graduate students and post-doctoral fellows who work alongside the researchers.

PhD candidate Tomas Baldasarre arrived at QCRI after he realized he was more interested in research, which eventually brought him to the lab of Dr. Craig. He says the complexity of cancer research is what drew him into the area of study.

“It really is a complex field and the more you learn about it the more you realize the cure is still quite far away because it’s such a complex set of problems that lead to the pathology. But to me that makes it interesting,” he says. “It’s a mystery, and a challenging one at that, but I like mysteries and challenges.”