Dr John Bell

Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Researcher Dr John Bell
Fighting cancer with designer viruses

Many researchers are dedicating their careers to developing new treatments that effectively destroy cancers but leave normal tissues unharmed. These types of therapies are especially needed for advanced cancers that have spread (metastasized) throughout the body.

Dr John Bell, a senior scientist at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute and professor at the University of Ottawa, is harnessing the ability of viruses to travel and infect cells throughout the body to develop new cancer treatments. In the lab, Dr Bell and his colleagues engineer “designer viruses” that seek out and destroy cancer cells but leave healthy cells alone.

For his pioneering work in this field, Dr Bell was recognized with the Robert L. Noble Prize from the Canadian Cancer Society in 2011, awarded for outstanding achievements in basic biomedical cancer research. More recently, he has also advanced scientists’ understanding of how cancer-fighting viruses destroy the blood vessels that supply tumours with oxygen and nutrients.

Thanks to the generous support of our donors, Dr Bell holds an Impact Grant, one of the Society’s most prestigious grants. This support is allowing him to continue to study how to tailor viruses to fight specific cancers, focusing on pancreatic cancer. Pancreatic cancer has one of the lowest survival rates of any cancer type and is particularly hard to treat. New treatments like virus-based therapy could offer renewed hope to those living with this disease.

“This new approach to therapy could really be a game-changer in pancreatic cancer,” says Dr Bell. “We’re excited to build our research program with the help of the Society and its donors.”

In 2015, the first patients were treated with a new virus-based cancer therapy jointly developed by Dr Bell and his colleagues in a world-first clinical trial. The trial, led by the Society-supported Canadian Cancer Trials Group, will mark a major advance in the progression of Dr Bell’s research from the lab to patient care. Together with our donors, we are proud to support one of the global leaders in viral therapy for cancer.