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Victoria cancer research centre celebrates 20 years

Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, B.C. (CTV News) Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria, B.C. (CTV News)

Victoria-based scientists who have contributed to global immunotherapy research are celebrating 20 years in their lab.

The Deeley Research Centre, inside Victoria’s B.C. Cancer building at Royal Jubilee Hospital, has shifted from studying mice decades ago to forming treatments for people.

“When I look back over the last 20 years here, you see how that all adds up to real progress,” said director Dr. Brad Nelson. “It’s helping patients now and far into the future.”

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that uses the body’s immune system to find cancer and fight it.

“We had to learn how to safely manipulate the immune system to get it to really focus on killing the cancer without causing side effects that would be unacceptable,” said Nelson.

Today. part of the Deeley Research Centre is reserved for clinical trial space where the team can genetically engineer cells that are used for patients in B.C. and Ontario.

“This is a breakthrough just in the last decade,” said Nelson.

The centre has a team of 50 people, assigned to their own projects. They can also link up with colleagues across Canada and around the world.

“It’s amazing. We work with the best people and everyone here is so committed to what we do,” said research assistant Breeze Gladwin.

She’s working in a lab studying cells that produce antibodies.

“We still don’t know a lot about what B-cells do in cancer so our team is focused on trying to figure out what they’re doing and how we can leverage that as a potential therapy,” said Gladwin.

Nelson said the centre is also committed to exposing younger generations to the work. There are high-school interns and at least one university co-op student working in a room that’s focused on the microscopic study of tissues and organs – known as histology.

“I mean we’re a little bit removed from the research but I still think the small amount we contribute is still very interesting,” said University of Victoria co-op student Bridget Mateyko.

Nelson said immunotherapies are now used to treat multiple cancers, and even becoming a routine treatment option for some patients.

“That’s just fostered a huge amount of interest in what we can do next,” he said.

He’s working on research for ovarian cancer.

“Their immunotherapy is not working yet. That’s why I’m working on it, trying to really understand what can we learn from successes against other cancers. What’s different about ovarian cancer? What part of the picture is missing?” said Nelson.

He’s been there since the Deeley Research Centre’s start.

Nelson said curing cancer isn’t easy work – it’s important to be able to pivot when theories aren’t adding up. But he says since joining 20 years ago – patients inside B.C. Cancer are now getting immunotherapies that hadn’t even been conceived in 2003.

“That’s how fast things are moving,” said Nelson. Top Stories

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