Dr. Siham Zerhouni

“The decision to pause my general surgery training to pursue a Master’s of basic science at the University of Toronto commenced as a mere “what if” scenario at the beginning of my PGY II level.  The series of events that followed occurred quickly.  At first, I decided to meet with a few researchers and surgeons at UBC and at the University of Toronto. I approached the supervisors with questions of what my project would entail and what the research environment had to offer.  I limited my search to surgeon scientists because I wanted it to be well understood that I had a timeline to adhere to.   University of Toronto was appealing to me as it had a history of established research culture.  From lab technician to graduate program director I was fascinated by the dedication and the importance that was placed on research.  The funding and ultimately research resources available in such an institution are abundant.  When I met with my supervisor, Dr. McCart, and got an overview of my Master project, my mere “what if” scenario turned into an aspiration.  The next major hurdle was to find funding for my second year of research, seeing that the UBC program was already graciously supporting me for the first year of graduate studies.  I applied to several grants/programs and was successful in obtaining the CSSO (Canadian Society of Surgical Oncology) Pfizer Research award and the CIP (Clinician Investigator Program) at the University of Toronto.   This Royal College accredited program is specifically designed for physicianscientists.

Under the support of OICR (Ontario Institute of Cancer Research) and the mentorship of Dr. J. Andrea McCart, my Master project will collaborate with a phase 1 clinical trial of patients with peritoneal carcinomatosis (PC) intravenously injected with an engineered vaccinia virus, JX-594.  PC- the diffuse spread of cancer cells in the abdomen- is a devastating end stage fate for patients representing at diagnosis a 5-year survival of less than 10% despite treatment.  Novel targeted therapies that spare systemic effects are in dire need.  A prime example of targeted therapy, oncolytic virotherapy, involves a virus’s ability to preferentially select, infect and ultimately kill cancer cells.  This property was first observed in the 1980’s with case reports of patients undergoing remission after contracting viral illnesses.  The decades of research that followed have encompassed an arsenal of genetically engineered viruses, a handful of which have already entered clinical trials.  JX-594, is an example of an engineered vaccinia virus that has yielded promising results in patients with advanced cancer.  The objective of my study is to elicit the effect of JX-594 in its ability to select and grow in tumors of patients with aggressive peritoneal carcinomatosis of ovarian and colorectal origin.”