2023 Cohort of BioCanRx Summer Students


Introducing the winners of BioCanRx’s 2023 Summer Studentships


BioCanRx is happy to introduce the 16 undergraduate students chosen from across Canada through a competitive application process to be part of our Summer Student Internship Program. The program’s goal is to inspire the next generation of highly qualified personnel to pursue research or policy-related work in cancer immuno-oncology. Undergraduate students receive funding to conduct research with BioCanRx’s network investigators. This opportunity provides students with a practical, hands-on research experience.


BioCanRx would also like to highlight our Indigenous Summer Studentship program. Two students were chosen through a competitive application process to be a part of this program. Similarly, this program’s goal is to give Indigenous students the opportunity to conduct meaningful hands-on cancer research. This is accomplished through internships with research groups at post-secondary institutions across Canada or with our partnering organization, the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer (CPAC). The BioCanRx Indigenous Summer Studentship is open to any cancer-related research or policy-related work including that with an Indigenous-oriented framework, such as Indigenous traditional knowledge. BioCanRx would like to acknowledge our partnership with the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research (OICR) and their contribution in supporting Indigenous students working with Ontario-based researchers for through this program. BioCanRx is also continuing its partnership with Indspire to provide mentorship for students who have received this award. Indspire’s Rivers to Success program provides students with one-on-one and group guidance and mentorship from Indigenous peers and role models who can help students stay grounded as they prepare to take the next steps on their personal path to success.


See the biographies for each of our 2023 summer students below!



Name: Golnaz Amidpour


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Kednapa Thavorn, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute


Project Title: Early Economic Evaluation of Therapeutic Inducers of Natural Killer Cell Killing (ThinKK) for Patients with Leukemia or Neuroblastoma Undergoing Allogeneic Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (HSCT).


Profile: I recently completed my Honours Bachelor of Science in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Ottawa and will start my Master’s in Medical Sciences at the University of Toronto in the fall. This summer, I will be working in Dr. Thavorn’s Research Unit at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. In my free time, I enjoy playing basketball and flag football, as well as volunteering at the Ottawa Hospital.


In the summer, I will contribute to a health economic assessment study of ThinKK for neuroblastoma patients undergoing HSCT as there is a significant gap in the data on the cost of developing cancer treatments in clinical trials. While economic assessments are more common in late-stage trials, our team has successfully implemented a framework for assessing an economic value in early-stage clinical trials. The project will focus on a headroom analysis of ThinKK for patients with leukemia or neuroblastoma undergoing HSCT, and a value of information analysis to address the uncertainties surrounding ThinKK’s cost-effectiveness.


The BioCanRX summer studentship presents a valuable opportunity for me to pursue my interest in the cross-link between health economics, clinical epidemiology, and cancer research. I aim to evaluate the feasibility of novel cancer therapies in advancing patient treatment in real-time. I am thrilled about this opportunity as it will enable me to further expand my knowledge and skills and become a well-rounded scientist in this area of research.



Name: Mira Ishak


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Jonathan Bramson, McMaster University


Project Title: In vivo boosting of T cells using a universal chimeric antigen receptor- oncolytic virus vaccine combination


Profile: I have just graduated from the Biochemistry program at McMaster University, where I did my fourth year thesis in Dr. Jonathan Bramson’s lab. This summer, I will continue working in Dr. Bramson’s, where I will be working on a project investigating the in vivo expansion of T cells using a recombinant virus vaccine.


Adoptive cell therapies are a type of cancer treatment that utilizes a patient’s own immune cells (often T cells) to target cancer cells. While these therapies are very effective, they are limited by the fact that the cells need to be expanded to very large numbers ex vivo prior to patient administration. To address this, our lab has developed a strategy where T cells can be expanded in vivo using a recombinant virus vaccine. In this system, anti-tumour T cells are engineered with a chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) that is paired with a recombinant virus vaccine encoding the CAR-targeted antigen. Upon vaccination and expression of the vaccine-encoded antigen, anti-tumour T cells interact with the antigen through their CAR, resulting in robust T cell expansion in vivo. My project will focus on whether pro-survival transgenes can enhance CAR-T cell persistence and antitumour function in vivo.


After this summer, I will be starting my PhD in Immunology at the University of Toronto! Outside the lab, I enjoy spending time with friends, trying new restaurants, and reading.



Name: Samantha Jang


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Jennifer Quizi, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute


Project Title: Development and Characterization of a Stable, Optimized, Lentivirus Expressing Cell Line (SOLVE)


Profile: I am a fourth-year honours biochemistry student at the University of Ottawa and will be completing my internship with the Biotherapeutics Manufacturing Centre – Virus Manufacturing Facility (BMC-VMF). The BMC-VMF offers services in process development, assay development and quality control, and manufactures viruses for use in clinical and pre-clinical trials. Most notably, the organization manufactures lentivirus vectors for use in the CLIC-01 trial.


This summer I will be working on the development of a HEK293T derived lentivirus (LV) packaging cell line. The SOLVE cell line places stably transfected LV packaging genes under control of an inducible system. The cells will therefore produce LV particles upon transfection with the transgene and induction with doxycycline. This method of LV production greatly reduces the cost and time associated with manufacturing by eliminating the need to generate plasmids for every batch. I will be characterizing the expression and stability of lentivirus packaging genes, and analyzing the viral titer in comparison with current procedures for LV production. Additionally, I will be applying the system to different cell lines including suspension cells, which are favourable for high volume applications.


After completing my undergraduate degree, my goal is to pursue graduate studies in cancer and immunotherapy research with a focus on virotherapy. I am grateful to the BMC and my supervisors for sparking my interest in cancer research and for providing the opportunity to develop my research skills. In the future, I hope to apply my experience to the development of accessible and effective biotherapeutics.



Name: Kaslyn Kallio


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Samuel Workenhe, University of Guelph

Project Title: Targeting oncogenic pathways to kickstart immune-mediated attack of cancers

Profile: I have just finished my final year of Molecular Biology at the University of Toronto. I will be conducting my summer research under the supervision of Dr. Samuel Workenhe at the University of Guelph and continuing into graduate studies with Dr. Workenhe in September.


The research I will be conducting in the summer involves investigating oncogenic pathways involved in blocking immunogenic cell death. Activating immunogenic cell death (ICD) can trigger the anti-tumour immunity cycle for durable immunotherapeutic effect. There are several types of cancers that cannot yet be effectively controlled with immunotherapy including glioblastoma, pancreatic, and breast cancers. These cancer types inhibit the activation of immunogenic cell death (ICD) to block the initiation of anti-cancer immunity. It is unknown how and what pro-oncogenic pathways block the ICD machinery. The central hypothesis of the summer project is pro-oncogenic factors partly inhibit the anticancer immunity cycle by suppressing ICD. Hence, the goal of this research is to discover the pro-oncogenic pathways that block cancer cell death machinery and the means they use to escape recognition by the immune system.



Name: Alexandra Koshyk


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Donna Wall, Hospital for Sick Children

Project Title: Re-envisioning the Autologous Transplant

Profile: I am a fourth year student at Western University where I am completing my bachelor’s degree in medical sciences with an honours specialization in cancer biology. Outside of academics, I love playing hockey and going on hikes with my family and two dogs. This summer, I am thrilled to continue my work in Dr. Donna Wall’s lab at SickKids in the bone marrow transplant and cellular therapy program.


The current standard treatment for pediatric patients with neuroblastoma and solid brain tumours is high-dose chemotherapy followed by hematopoietic stem cell transplant (HSCT). My project this summer will focus on the autologous HSCT, which utilizes the patient’s own hematopoietic stem cells to recover hematopoiesis following chemotherapy. In order to understand the early post-transplant inflammatory environment, I will be analyzing the peripheral blood samples in patients that have undergone autologous HSCT. This study will provide important information about the dynamics of immune cell recovery, which can guide clinical decisions early posttransplant to improve patient outcomes


I am extremely grateful to BioCanRx, Dr. Donna Wall, and all the members of the Wall lab for providing me with the opportunity to gain research experience in the field of cancer immunology. This studentship will be invaluable in helping me pursue a career in oncology as a researcher or oncologist.



Name: Hannah Laquerre


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Manoj Lalu, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute

Project Title: Engaging patients in preclinical, laboratory research: co-development of a guiding framework

Profile: I recently completed my second year at Dalhousie University, where I am majoring in Microbiology and Immunology. In my spare time I enjoy reading, swimming and playing board games. I am thrilled to be conducting summer research at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute with the Blueprint Translational Research Group, under the guidance of Dr. Manoj Lalu and Dr. Dean Fergusson.


This summer I will be working closely with Madison Foster, a Senior Research Associate with the Blueprint team, to optimize patient engagement in laboratory work. Patient engagement means involving patients as members of the research team and giving them a voice in decision-making processes. In this context, patients refer to individuals with lived experiences of a health condition. Patient engagement is well established in clinical research (and BioCanRx has supported it), however this practice is still pretty new in lab-based research.


To help identify ‘best-practices’ for patient engagement in research, I will be coordinating an international survey on this topic. This survey will help refine a guiding framework for patient engagement in preclinical lab-based research. The goal of this research is to ultimately provide guidance for engagement of patients as partners at the earliest stages of research – this may help align research done in the lab with patient priorities.


My goal is to pursue a career in oncology and in improving patient care. The opportunity provided by BioCanRx to conduct research this summer will provide invaluable knowledge in cancer research and allow me to build skills to pursue my future studies.



Name: Alexandria McRorie


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Joshua Tobias, Canadian Partnership Against Cancer

Project Title: Evaluating standard Patient and Family Advisory Committees (PFACs) in Canada through an Indigenous research paradigm

Profile: My name is Alexandria McRorie, and I am a member of the Métis Nation of Alberta, Region 3. I am a 4th-year student at the University of Calgary pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with a minor in International Indigenous Studies. This summer, I will be working with Joshua Tobias at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer with the First Nations, Inuit, and Métis Strategy.


The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer works with partners across Canada to support the five priorities outlined in the Canadian Strategy for Cancer Control. I am deeply committed to advocating for and strengthening First Nations, Inuit, and Métis access to culturally appropriate cancer services closer to home. For my summer project, I plan to explore how Patient and Family Advisory Committees (PFACs) can better serve Indigenous cancer patients and their families by evaluating standard PFACs in Canada through an Indigenous research paradigm.


As I move into the future, I look to pursue a career in healthcare that primarily focuses on serving Indigenous populations, wherever that may be. I am incredibly grateful to BioCanRx for helping facilitate this research opportunity, and I look forward to gaining practical skills that will aid me as I transition into my future studies.



Name: Jayson Pomfret


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Jill Tinmouth, Sunnybrook Research Institute


Project Title: Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority Cancer Screening Communication Research Project


Profile: I am halfway through a bachelor of health sciences degree at Queen’s University with a specialization in Infection Immunity and Inflammation while simultaneously pursuing a certificate in Law. Beyond the classroom, I hold a position on the Queens NASA-FNL rocket team. In addition to an executive position with The Lilac Project, an organization promoting the destigmatization of eating disorders.


This summer I will have the opportunity to work with a team at the Sunnybrook Research Institute in cooperation with the Sioux Lookout First Nations Health Authority investigating colon cancer screening practices for indigenous people. I hope to take this opportunity to not only expand my understanding of indigenous needs and perspectives on healthcare but also to execute meaningful work that can eventually have policy-based impact in the area of cancer screening.


This research position will allow me to hone my research skills and broaden my understanding of real-world, actionable interventions that can be taken in the fight against cancer. After the completion of my bachelor’s degree, I intend to apply to medical school in Canada with hopes to practice as a physician.



Name: Anish Puri


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Sheila Singh, McMaster University


Project Title: Immunotherapeutic targeting of uPAR in recurrent Glioblastoma


Profile: I have just finished my third year in the Honours Neuroscience program at McMaster University. This summer I will be working in the laboratory of Dr. Sheila Singh at the Centre for Discovery in Cancer Research. During my free time you will find me either teaching karate or working out at the gym.


Glioblastoma (GBM) is the most common primary malignant brain tumor and is currently incurable. Recurrence of GBM is almost certain, but few effective therapeutic options exist at recurrence. For my project, I will be exploring the effectiveness of a chimeric antigen receptor T (CAR T) cell against a novel target that is upregulated in recurrent GBM. The overarching goal of this work is to contribute to the immunotherapeutic field with the hopes that it will help the prognosis of patients with brain cancer.


One day, I aspire to be a clinician-scientist where I hope to be able to translate my curiosity at the bench to possible treatment options at the bedside. The BioCanRX studentship will provide me with the opportunity to learn from experts in the field and hone my scientific research skills. I am very grateful for this opportunity and hope to be able to put the skills I learn this summer to good use in the future, helping advance cancer research one day at a time.



Name: Shashankan Ramesh


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Barbara Vanderhyden, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute


Project Title: Effect of NLRC5 Overexpression on Tumor Associated Antigen Presentation in Models of Ovarian Cancer


Profile: Hi! I just finished my third year of Honours Biomedical Sciences at the University of Ottawa and will be completing research this summer with Dr. Barbara Vanderhyden. Outside of school I enjoy playing badminton and the drums, going on walks, and volunteering at various places.


Dr. Vanderhyden’s lab focuses on developing treatments for ovarian cancers and they’ve recently discovered that restoring NLRC5 expression in epithelial ovarian cancers EOC could be a factor that delays tumour growth, as NLRC5 is used for MHC1 expression in healthy cells. My role in the Vanderhyden lab will be to generate cell lines with EOC mutations overexpressing NLRC5 and understanding how they respond to the increased amount of NLRC5.


This Summer Studentship will allow me to continue developing my general research skills as well as skills related to cancer immunotherapy, which I can utilize in a Master’s or PhD program and later on in life.



Name: Agrima Shrestha


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Rebecca Auer, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute


Project Title: Investigating the effect of QBECO, a site-specific immunomodulator, on reduction of metastatic colorectal adenocarcinoma within the liver for patients undergoing resection in a phase II study.


Profile: My name is Agrima Shrestha, and I am currently a 4th-year Biochemistry student at the University of Ottawa. This summer, I have the opportunity to work in Dr. Rebecca Auer’s lab which intersects clinical and scientific cancer research. While surgery is often used to treat cancer patients, resulting trauma from operation can lead to suppression of the immune system and potential metastasis or recurrence. A large contributor to this postoperative immune suppression is the dysfunction of natural killer (NK) cells and are thus one of the main focuses of the lab.


Specifically, I will be working on a multi-site clinical trial that will test a site-specific immunomodulator (SSI) developed by Qu Biologics called QBECO – an SSI that targets colorectal adenocarcinomas that have metastasised to the liver. We hypothesize that QBECO will stimulate site-specific trained immunity and diminish postoperative immune suppression.


My current research interests revolve around cancer therapeutics, bioinformatics and cardiovascular research. While my future career path remains open, I am most interested in research, academia, and teaching. Recently, I’ve developed an interest in fitness and improving my health. Outside of school, I also enjoy playing video games and keeping up with fashion.


I am thankful to BioCanRx for providing me with this amazing opportunity to pursue my interest in cancer therapeutics. With this program, I am hoping to expand my research knowledge and skillset and advance cancer therapeutics research.



Name: Sabrina Sikka


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Michele Ardolino, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute


Project Title: Understanding the mechanisms underlying the glycolytic shift mediated by PD-L1 in NK cells


Profile: I just finished my third year of Translational and Molecular Medicine at the University of Ottawa. Outside of academics, I enjoy participating in various sports including running, soccer, skiing, and biking. I also love coaching soccer and traveling with my family.


This summer I am excited to be working in the Ardolino lab at the OHRI Cancer Centre. Our lab is interested in studying the immune response against cancer with a focus on the role of NK cells in anti-cancer immunity. My project aims to investigate how PD-L1 cell-intrinsic signaling regulates the metabolism of NK cells, thus impacting their activation and anti-cancer activity. PD-L1 has previously been well-characterized for its role as a ligand for the checkpoint protein, PD-1, but its cell-intrinsic signaling properties are still understudied. Understanding the mechanisms of PD-L1 signaling on NK cells is key to the development of successful NK cell based immunotherapies.


I am grateful to BioCanRx for providing me with this opportunity to learn valuable skills in the field of cancer immunology. This summer internship will allow me to see the translational aspect of cancer immunotherapy research, giving me insight into the role of a clinician scientist. As someone who is interested in a career in both research and medicine, experiences such as this internship provide me with the opportunity to explore future career pathways. I hope to one day combine my passion for cancer research with clinical work.



Name: Judy Sobh


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute


Project Title: Combining oncolytic viruses (OV) with trastuzumab deruxtecan for the treatment of HER2+ cancer

Profile: I have just completed my third year of Honours Biomedical Sciences at the University of Ottawa, and I will be working with Dr. Jean-Simon Diallo at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. In my free time outside of the lab, I enjoy reading, baking and embroidery!


My summer research in Dr. Diallo’s lab will focus on developing a novel combination therapeutic approach for HER2+ cancer involving oncolytic viruses (OV) and antibody-drug conjugates (ADC). We aim to demonstrate synergy between an untargeted topoisomerase I inhibitor and various classes of OVs in terms of cytotoxicity and OV replication, in human and murine cancer cell lines. We also aim to evaluate the efficacy of the ADC combined with candidate OVs in HER2+ cancer models in vitro, using patient-derived ex vivo tumour cores, and in vivo.


Ultimately, we hope this approach will provide new treatment options for patients with HER2+ cancer, which is a highly aggressive cancer with poor prognoses.


I am eager for this wonderful opportunity that will refine my research skills and prepare me for my graduate studies, as well as my future healthcare career endeavours.



Name: Sherry Tan


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Natasha Kekre, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute


Project Title: Comparison of Canadian-made CD19 CAR-T Cells to Commercially Available CD19 CAR-T Cell Products in Canada for Treatment of Relapsed/Refractory CD19 Positive Hematologic Malignancies.


Profile: I just completed my second year of medical school at the University of Ottawa. This summer, I will continue working at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute under the supervision of Dr. Natasha Kekre, an exceptionally motivated scientist and an incredibly inspiring mentor.


Although the clinical efficacy of CAR-T therapies has been remarkable, this novel cancer treatment remains difficult to access at many Canadian centers. Our team is currently completing the first stage of the clinical trial CLIC-01 (Canadian Led Immunotherapies for Cancer), an early phase study to determine the safety and efficacy of CLIC-1901 (Canadian-made CD19 CAR-T) products in participants with CD19 positive hematologic malignancies. This project represents the first “made-in-Canada” chimeric antigen receptor (CAR) T-cell clinical trial therapy and will act as a monumental stepping stone to increase CAR-T therapy access for Canadian patients. This summer, we intend to compare the logistics, safety, and clinical outcomes of patients receiving CLIC-1901 versus commercial CD19 CAR-T products.


As CAR-T treatments move into the mainstream, the findings of this research will add to the literature and support physicians in their clinical decision-making. Overall, this project aligns with my interest and commitment to addressing the bench-to-bedside obstacles that prevent wider adoption of life-saving medical care. As an aspiring clinician scientist, I will use this incredible opportunity to further develop my ability to analyze, interpret, and appraise data for provision of high-quality evidence-based care. Outside of research, I hope to use this summer to also spend time with my friends and family—whether it be eating and cooking in the backyard, throwing pottery on the wheel, bouldering at my favorite local gym, or challenging myself to try harder hikes!



Name: Julia Thomas


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. John Bell, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute


Project Title: Development of Recombinant Oncolytic Viruses that Synergize with Chemotherapy


Profile: : Hi, my name is Julia! I have just finished my third year of Biomedical Science at the University of Ottawa. I am so excited to be starting a summer studentship in Dr. Bell’s lab! Growing up I played soccer and in my free time, I love being outside and spending time with my friends and family.


The Bell lab explores various therapies with Oncolytic Viruses (OV) to investigate the improved efficiency against different abnormalities. OVs have the ability to target cancerous cells without harming healthy cells. This summer, I will be working on the generation of an OV that expresses active versions of specific genes involved in intracellular signaling. I will also be testing their ability to infect and kill different cancer cell lines and investigate the effectiveness of combining OVs with chemotherapy.


I am very grateful to have this amazing opportunity to work in Dr. Bell’s lab and hope to continue to develop my skills and abilities in research through this Summer Studentship, as I hope to pursue a career working in oncology, microbiology, or immunology.



Name: Cameo Volk


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Brad Nelson, University of Victoria


Project Title: Hacking Co-Stimulatory Receptors with Targeted Checkpoint Antibody Therapy


Profile: Hello! I have just finished my third year at the University of Victoria where I am completing my bachelor’s degree in microbiology (honours). This summer I am excited to join Dr. Brad Nelson’s laboratory at the Deeley Research Centre for a co-op term and subsequent honours project in the fall. Outside of school, I enjoy reading, hiking, weightlifting, and working on my family farm.


Over the summer, I will be researching a novel approach for selectively stimulating engineered cells using chimeric co-stimulatory receptors. The primary goal of the project involves overcoming the present limitations of traditional agonistic antibodies, such as off-target toxicity seen in adoptive cell therapies (ACT) as a result of unchecked stimulation of host immune cells expressing the co-stimulatory receptors targeted by the monoclonal antibodies. Long-term success of the research will hopefully provide insight into safe and potent immunotherapies for cancer patients.


Following completion of my undergraduate degree, I hope to become a surgical oncologist or neurosurgeon while also continuing clinical research alongside my practice. The skills acquired from my time at the Deeley Research Center will prove invaluable in my professional career as a researcher and as a future physician. I am exceptionally grateful to BioCanRx, Dr. Brad Nelson, and everyone in the Nelson lab for this incredible opportunity.