Science & Tech

Taylor Jamieson-Datzkiw
Taylor Jamiezon-Datzkiw is exploring viruses at the U of O’s faculty of medicine’s department of biochemistry, microbiology and immunology and at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI). Image: University of Ottawa/Provided.
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Taylor Jamieson-Datzkiw has been working on the development of viruses that have the potential to fight breast and ovarian cancer

Taylor Jamieson-Datzkiw, a MD-PhD student at the University of Ottawa, has been awarded the Mitacs Award for Outstanding Innovation in the Indigenous category for her work on cancer-killing viruses that have shown potential as breast and ovarian cancer therapies. 

Jamiezon-Datzkiw is exploring viruses under principal investigators Carolina Ilkow and John Bell at the U of O’s faculty of medicine’s department of biochemistry, microbiology and immunology and at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute (OHRI).

She first became interested in cancerology while searching for a field to do research as a medical student, that’s when she discovered the world of viruses. 

“Viruses are very different from typical therapy. It is more personalized and targeted,” said Jamieson-Datzkiw.

Generally, oncogenic viruses replicate in cancer cells and are not good at replicating in healthy cells. Viruses can carry different components based on the research — either to encode protein or genetic material. 

The viruses that Jamieson-Datzkiw created encode genetic elements that shut off genes within the cancer cells to sensitize them for drug therapy. These viruses are very sensitive to interferon signaling, a type of antiviral signaling found in healthy cells. Mutation is gained as the cells become tumorigenic. A lot of cancer cells mutate as they replicate. Thus, the cancer cells don’t have interferon signaling while healthy cells do.  

The antiviral mechanism that healthy cells have can combat the virus, leaving the cancerous cells vulnerable to the virus, allowing the virus to replicate in the cancer cells which leads to cell lysis.

Currently, testing is being done in human cells. DNA or RNA backbone of viruses are genetically modified using bacteria through typical cloning techniques. The next step is to test the virus on mice which involves giving mice tumours and injecting the viruses to test if they work. The research is at its early stages but there is hope as there has already been viruses such as measles used in clinical trials.

Some challenges in the lab are — how the viruses will go along with the clinical trials? Are there certain ways to make the viruses safer? Are there similarities between her research and others? Could something different be conducted in the research? Novelty is good, but it is also easier to get into clinical trials if one of the viruses that is used has already been applied on people.

Furthermore, work on the viruses is being done to assure they are safe and do not harm patients. At the same time, it is important that they don’t be attenuated to the point where the virus is too weak to be effective. Viruses are also being modified to ensure that they reach the tumors and achieve their intended purpose.

“We want to make the tumors easier to be reached either by introducing elements that were already in the viruses before or doing combination therapies,” said Jamieson-Datzkiw.

By slowly introducing components back into the viruses, it can make them more potent since they were made to be safe. If successful, these viruses could become an effective therapy in fighting breast and ovarian cancers — providing hope to those who need it the most.