Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy

The human immune system is an amazing defense system, always on guard to destroy foreign bacteria and viruses.  Even better, it can be further fortified to defend against life-threatening viruses that it may not recognize or have the natural defenses to fight.  Because of this we now have vaccinations against diseases such as small pox and tetanus.

Harnessing the body’s immune system to fight cancer is an intuitively appealing and tantalizing idea. Dr. Pamela Ohashi heads a team of immunologists at The Campbell Family Institute at Princess Margaret Hospital that has been working on this challenge for some time.

Dr. Ohashi’s lab is focused on helping the immune system to mount an attack on tumour cells in the body.  She explains, “It is important that our bodies respond to viruses which are foreign invaders, and not respond to our own tissues.  When this process breaks down, people can develop diseases such as diabetes.  Our goal is to understand what prevents our immune system from attacking our own tissues, and use this knowledge to direct the immune system to destroy any tumours that may arise in our body.”

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Multimedia


Harnessing the Immune System to Fight Breast Cancer
Dr. Pam Ohashi’s presentation at the WEBC Trailblazers Symposium, January 2008 (15 minutes)
» See Video

Training our Body to Recognize and Destroy Tumour Cells
2010 Online Annual Report for the Princess Margaret Hospital Foundation (3.5 minutes)
» See Video

Dr. Pam Ohashi, senior scientist and a principal investigator at The Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research speaks about her team’s work in harnessing the body’s own immune system to attack tumours. She explains the many hurdles that exist because tumours are ‘grown’ by our own body and resemble other body tissues. Developing vaccines that can accurately discern healthy tissue from tumours is a major challenge. Her team is working to initiate a clinical trial that would use T-cells created in the lab to fight melanoma (skin cancer).
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