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Using Genetically Engineered Viruses to Enhance Immunity

October 30, 2015

Hello, my name is Kwame Twumasi-Boateng and it is my pleasure to wrap up a month of blogging with my immunotherapy colleagues at the BC Cancer Agency!

Currently, I am a postdoctoral fellow working at the Deeley Research Centre (DRC) – a position I started in January 2013.

During graduate school, I studied molecular details of aging and immunity in tiny worms. At the conclusion of my studies, I decided that I wanted to apply my training to a real world medical challenge – I felt cancer immunotherapy was an important problem that I could apply my skills to.

Immunotherapy and Oncolytic Viruses

My work is focused on a type of immunotherapy that uses cancer-selective viruses called “oncolytic viruses” or “OVs”. OVs are viruses that have been designed to selectively replicate inside tumours. My goal is to develop genetically-modified OVs that can “train” the immune system to destroy cancer cells.

My current research involves:

  • enhancing immune responses to cancer using OVs that increase the recruitment of T and B cells to the tumours;
  • in collaboration with the Centre for Drug Research and Development, developing antibodies that can recognize and destroy OV-infected tumour cells;
  • using OVs to re-direct common, pre-existing antiviral immune responses (such as anti-flu immunity) to kill cancer cells.

We ultimately hope to combine OVs with other treatments like T cell therapy to achieve the most effective result for patients.

Every time I speak with people in the community about our work, I am motivated by their level of engagement and their faith in research and researchers. As a scientist, I also love having a puzzle to solve, and am fortunate to have great colleagues who challenge and encourage me.

This year, I channeled my excitement for the immunotherapy program into forming and leading the DRC’s Ride to Conquer Cancer team, “Cell Cyclists”. Our team raised almost $16,000 for cancer immunotherapy in B.C. Inspired by the thousands of riders all working toward our common goal of a future without cancer, Cell Cyclists will be back in 2016, and we’re hoping to double our membership! 

Thanks for reading,