Interdisciplinary Oncology Program

Faculty of Medicine

100-570 West 7th Avenue
Vancouver, British Columbia V5Z 4S6

© 2017 by Kent Chen and Ada Leung. Proudly created with

Dr. Cathie Garnis

Our primary research interests are focused around head and neck malignancies. These are a group of biologically similar tumors originating from tissue of the upper aerodigestive tract, including the lip, oral cavity (mouth), nasal passages, paranasal sinuses, oropharynx, and larynx. More than 4,300 Canadians will be diagnosed with this type of cancer this year and approximately 1,600 of them will die from it.

Currently, histopathological criteria are the gold standard for grading and classifying many tumor types. In recent years it has become clear that cancers with very similar morphologies may have drastically different underlying gene changes. Given that cancer is a disease driven by accumulated gene changes, it is imperative that we determine which of these changes are associated with specific clinical parameters. This will ultimately give us insight into mechanisms driving observed clinical behaviors (chemoresistance, metastasis, etc.) and provide us with effective biomarkers for guiding treatment strategies.

At the Garnis Lab, we are using molecular profiles of head and neck malignancies to better understand the gene changes involved in initiation and progression of this disease. We are looking into dysregulation of the genome and transcriptome (including non-coding RNAs) to develop molecular stratifications for what is presently treated as a homogeneous disease.

In addition to analyzing tumor tissues, we are investigating the utility of surface epithelial markers and blood-based biomarkers for managing disease. Surface epithelial markers may arise due to malignancy-associated changes (MACs) in normal tissues and may be useful for detecting disease when tumors arise in inaccessible locations, such as tonsillar crypts, which is common in the oropharynx. 

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Dr. Sharon Gorski

Autophagy is an intracellular degradation and recycling process that promotes stress adaptation and cell survival. Our research program explores the contributions of autophagy to proteostasis, normal development, and cancer progression with a focus on breast and pancreatic cancers. We are also investigating the therapeutic potential of autophagy-related inhibition strategies in these cancers.

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Dr. Keith Humphries

My research concentrates on two major areas. The first is the characterization of genes that underlie the self-renewal and multipotential differentiation capacity of hemopoietic stem cells. The former property is essential for the life long maintenance of hemopoietic function and for regeneration after damage or transplantation; the latter results in the production of the multiple specialized but short lived mature blood cell types.

Most recently, we have focused on the Hox homeobox family of transcription factors as candidate intrinsic regulators of normal primitive hematopoietic cell properties and as participants in leukemic transformation.

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Dr. William Jia

A major interest of my research is to study the biology of brain tumors, especially malignant gliomas and to seek an effective treatment using gene therapy techniques. Our previous work showed that genetically engineered herpes simplex virus(HSV-1) can selectively and effectively destroy gliomas in immunocompetent animal models, suggesting that the HSV-1 virus is potentially useful as a vector for the treatment of gliomas in human.

Our research in the recent years showed that infection with defective HSV-1 virus in the brain may not cause any long term toxicity. Furthermore, infection with defective HSV-1 virus may not reactivate the latently infected wild-type virus, which was one of the major concerns in using HSV-1 as a gene therapy agent since the majority of patients have been previously infected with the wild-type HSV-1 and reactivation of latent HSV-1 could be a potential risk of fetal encephalitis. The conclusion from our study is one of the major facts that convinced FDA for approving the first clinical trial using HSV-1 viral vector for the treatment of gliomas.

We have also investigated the immune response of the brain and glioma cells to HSV-1 infection. Our studies indicate that while a general immune response can be stimulated by the HSV-1 infection in the brain, the virus is able to block the presentation of major histocompatibility complex (MHC) molecules on infected glioma cells, which prevents the infected cells from the attack of the host immune system.

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