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Each year the parents of 15,700  kids will hear the words 

"your child has cancer."



Across all ages, ethnic groups and socio-economics, this disease remains the number one cause of death by disease in children. Despite major advances – from an overall survival rate of 10 percent just fifty years ago to nearly 90 percent today, for many rare cancers, the survival rate is much lower. Believe in the Gold is excited and confident in our partner, Dr. Douglas J Mahoney and his ongoing research that may soon provide an exciting alternative to drug-based therapies for some cancers.


Meet Dr. Douglas J Mahoney


Position: Assistant Professor in the Department of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Disease. 

Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary

Research Activities: Treating Childhood Cancers with oncolytic viruses. 

Dean's Talk, Nov. 2: Doug Mahoney - Advances in health research are changing your future
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Based on very promising phase I-II clinical data, several oncolytic viruses have recently been approved for late-stage evaluation in human cancer patients. As such, these agents may soon provide an exciting alternative to drug-based therapies for some cancers. Non-pathogenic oncolytic viruses distinguish a tumour from normal because of cancer-specific genetic defects and often lead to long-term cures in previously resistant preclinical cancer models. My lab studies the interactions between oncolytic viruses (OV) and mammalian host tumour cells and normal inflammatory and immune cells in the tumour microenvironment. The short-term goals of my research program are to (1) interrogate cancer genomes for opportunities to improve virus spread and induce bystander killing in tumours; (2) probe the tumour microenvironment for opportunities to enhance a virus-induced tumour targeting by the host’s immune system. In the long term, my vision is to develop and test novel oncolytic and adjunctive therapeutics for pediatric cancers, primarily for solid tumours of brain, neuroendocrine and soft tissue origin.

Doctor Mahony


New immunotherapy combination kills cancer

Dr. Doug Mahoney’s lab is one of three in the world looking at a new immunotherapy combination that is showing promise for killing cancer.

Immunotherapy is a promising new arena in the global fight against cancer, where scientists and clinicians search for ways to harness the body’s own immune system to attack and kill cancer. Thanks to your support, a Calgary research team has made an important discovery in immunotherapy that uses existing drugs in a whole new way.

“What we found is a combination of cancer therapies that complement each other to help the immune system clear the cancer,” says Dr. Doug Mahoney, a Believe in the Gold funded researcher at the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine and the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute. “Our results suggest that we’ve been looking at these cancer drugs the wrong way — as tumour-targeting drugs — instead of what we now feel is their most important biological role: as immune stimulating therapy.” –Dr. Doug Mahoney


Ramping up the immune system to kill cancer

Cancer cells are able to survive because they know how to hide from the body’s immune system. They also know how to control certain immune cells. Some cancerous tumours can reprogram immune cells to block other immune cells from attacking, leaving the tumour free to grow.

Treatments aimed at revving up the immune system’s attack on the cancer may be the most promising approach to cancer therapy since the evolution of combination chemotherapy. Research shows that single therapies, targeting only one part of the immune system, are effective in treating only a small percentage of patients. Results from Dr. Mahoney’s research are consistent with other recent findings, which suggest that smart combinations of therapies are even more effective in battling some cancers.

A two-pronged approach

In Dr. Mahoney’s study, researchers combined two therapies, each targeting a different part of the immune system. The first one boosts the immune system, followed by a second one, which stops the tumour from reprogramming immune cells.

“This combination of drugs allowed the immune cells to do what they’re supposed to do,” says Dr. Mahoney. “We were able to cure cancer in 20 to 60 percent of our animal models. It’s a very promising result against two very deadly forms of cancer: an aggressive breast cancer and a rare pediatric muscle cancer.”

When the researchers added a third complementary immunotherapy, the cure rate went as high as 80 to 100 percent. Results of the study are published in Nature Communications.

Drugs seen in a new light

“These results change a lot,” says Dr. Mahoney. “What’s interesting is that neither drug was developed as an immunotherapy. For nearly two decades they have been studied for their ability to directly kill cancer cells. Viewing these drugs through the lens of immunotherapy, will impact the way we study them and try to figure out how to make them work better. From a clinical perspective, it changes the way we will try to translate these drugs.”

Mahoney says we’ll know more about the impact this study will have on cancer patients in the next five years. His lab is one of three in the world looking at this immunotherapy combination. In the other two locations, clinical trials are about to start based on similar results.

This research study was supported by the Canadian Cancer Society, the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy, and the Cancer Research Society. Doug Mahoney’s lab, the Trican Childhood Cancer Therapeutics Lab, is supported by Trican Well Service, Kids Cancer Care Foundation of AlbertaAlberta Children’s Hospital Foundation and Believe in the Gold Foundation.

Dr. Doug Mahoney (PhD) is an assistant professor in the Departments of Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases; and Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Calgary Cumming School of Medicine, a member of Arnie Charbonneau Cancer and  Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institutes and a member of the Experimental and Applied Therapeutics research effort at the Childhood Cancer Research Program.


~ Revised with permission from the University of Calgary’s Cumming School of Medicine

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