Introducing the winners of BioCanRx’s 2022 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 Studentship 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. Five 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 is also partnering with Indspire to provide mentorship for students who have received this award. Indpire’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 2022 summer students below!



Name: Mary Agopian


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr Uri Tabori, University of Toronto/The Hospital for Sick Children Research Institute


Project Title: Investigating genomic biomarkers for immunotherapy response prediction in hypermutant cancers.


Profile: I recently completed my Honours Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology and Immunology at McGill University. I will be continuing my studies at the University of Toronto as a PhD student in Medical Biophysics.


This summer, I will be joining Dr Uri Tabori’s lab at The Hospital for Sick Children. Dr Tabori’s lab focuses on developing systems for early detection and intervention in individuals determined to be at high risk of developing brain tumours. Our project and long-term goal is to ensure cancer patients receive the best therapy for their specific disease.


As a bit of background, immune checkpoint inhibitors (ICI) work by enhancing the body’s immune response allowing native T-cells to attack cancer cells. However, not all cancers respond to this therapy. Therefore, studies on biomarkers that may predict response to ICI are necessary. As such, my project will focus on running bioinformatics analysis on human exome and genome sequenced tumour and blood samples to study biomarker response in predicting patient response to immune checkpoint inhibitor (ICI) therapy. This work will primarily focus on cancers driven by the loss of mismatch repair and/or polymerase proofreading deficiency (MMRD and PPD, respectively).


When I am not running a piece of code or troubleshooting, I enjoy hiking, yoga, and reading. I am looking forward to the upcoming research and the opportunity to learn more about the intersection of bioinformatics, biotechnology, and cancer immunotherapy research.



Name: Enzo Baracuhy


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Karen Mossman, McMaster University


Project Title: Elucidating the role of L-particles in oncolytic BHV-1 therapy


Profile: I have just finished my final year of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Guelph, and will be starting my graduate studies under Dr. Karen Mossman at McMaster University this fall. My experience working in different labs throughout my undergrad developed my passion for translational research–transforming what we do in the lab into something that can cure or treat an illness.


In general, oncolytic viruses can trigger an immune response towards cancerous masses. A variety of viruses have been studied for their oncolytic potential, and the Mossman lab is now working with Bovine herpesvirus-1 (BHV-1). Light or L-particles are viruses that lack a virion and genome, and they have recently been shown to be important players in BHV-1’s oncolytic mechanism. This summer I will be investigating the role of L-particles in BHV-1 therapy and the signalling pathways involved to learn about how they work.


In my spare time, I love to cook and wander downtown Toronto with my friends trying small and hidden restaurants. When I finish my graduate studies, I hope to either work in the biotech industry to spend my life developing treatments for different diseases, or continue in academia to become a professor where I can fulfil my love for teaching.



Name: Maddy Brookall


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Julian Lum, University of Victoria/Deeley Research Centre


Project Title: Epigenetic regulation of T cells by the metabolite 1-methylnicotinamide


Profile: Hello! My name is Maddy and I have just finished my third year as a biochemistry student at the University of Victoria. I am thrilled to be completing my summer studentship at the Deeley Research Centre this summer under the supervision of Dr. Julian Lum. In my free time I enjoy all things crafting, such as crochet, knitting, and sewing!


The Lum lab studies the metabolic relationship between tumour and immune cells in the tumour microenvironment (TME). By studying immunomodulatory metabolites, the lab hopes to design CAR-T cells that are better equipped to function in the presence of such molecules. The lab recently identified 1-methylnicotinamide (MNA) as a metabolite that suppresses T cell function. My project will focus on delineating the precise mechanism by which MNA impacts T cell function, which could provide a potential therapeutic target to overcome this effect.


I hope to pursue a career in immunology due to its vast impacts on human health. This opportunity will give me unique insight into the complex nature of the immune system and cancer. After completing my undergraduate studies, I hope to work in a lab that can make meaningful contributions to the improvement of human health, including cancer treatments. I also plan to pursue graduate studies in the future.



Name: Elijah Buffalo


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Julian Lum, University of Victoria/Deeley Research Centre


Project Title: Colonialism and Cancer in Canada: A review of the health risks, metabolic links, and associations in Indigenous populations that contribute to cancer outcomes.


Profile: Tansi,


My name is Elijah Buffalo and I am from the Samson Cree Nation in Maskwacis, AB, Treaty 6. I have a BA in Indigenous Studies and am working towards a BSc at UVIC. I am completing a BioCanRx Indigenous Summer Studentship through Dr. Lum’s lab. I have a research focus in Indigenous health, understanding health from the relationship Indigenous peoples have with the land and how the strength of this relationship is a determinant of health. A major part of my research involves studying the other end of the health and wellness spectrum of disease and poor health outcomes for Indigenous people, of which cancer is an increasing issue.


Outside of work I enjoy road cycling, art, and travelling with my family.



Name: Iqra Chaudhry


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


Project Title: Preclinical optimization of anti-GPC2 CAR-T cells against recurrent medulloblastoma


Profile: I have just finished my third year in the Honours Biochemistry program at McMaster University and will be conducting my summer research under the supervision of Dr. Sheila Singh. During my spare time, I enjoy going on hikes, cooking, and reading.


For my project, I will be researching medulloblastoma, the most common pediatric malignant brain tumour. The Singh Lab’s work is focused upon the Group 3 subgroup in medulloblastoma as these patients often present with metastatic disease and develop recurrent tumours after remission, resulting in poor prognosis. This summer, I will be optimizing and validating the effectiveness of a chimeric antigen receptor T-cell (CAR-T) immunotherapy against the GPC2 protein expressed on pediatric brain tumours, in hopes of eliminating Group 3 medulloblastoma cells.


In the near future, I wish to pursue a career in oncology, which is a field that is always evolving with new research and developments. The skills gained from this internship will further my knowledge and interest in cancer research, which can be directly translated to a career in research and medical science.



Name: Olivia Craggs


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


Project Title: The Application and Evaluation of the Barriers to the Collaboration & Health Communication with Indigenous Partners and Communities


Profile: I am a 3rd-year student pursuing a degree in biochemistry at Langara College in Vancouver, Canada. This summer, I will be working with Joshua Tobias at the Canadian Partnership Against Cancer with the First Nations, Inuit and Metis Strategy.


The Canadian Partnership Against Cancer works with partners across Canada on projects that support CPAC’s 5 priorities. I am passionate about creating space for lasting change that benefits the livelihood of Indigenous peoples. My goal is to support initiatives that incorporate the use of traditional medicine, foods and ceremonies in cancer treatments as well as prevention.


I am eager to bring my academic and personal experience with cancer care to the organization this summer. I will be developing a project exploring the successes and barriers to collaboration and health communication with Indigenous partners. Particularly, I will be focusing on the application of this knowledge towards First Nations youth and cancer prevention.



Name: Lara Crone


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Jeanette Boudreau, Dalhousie University


Project Title: Immune Cell Profiling for Checkpoint Blockade in NSCLC


Profile: : I have just finished my third year at Dalhousie University, where I am majoring in Microbiology and Immunology. This summer, I will be working in Dr. Jeanette Boudreau’s laboratory. In my spare time, I enjoy reading, sewing and baking.


Dr. Boudreau’s lab focuses on natural killer (NK) cells and how NK cell immunogenetics can be used to develop precision therapies for the treatment of cancers. My project this summer will involve validating different immune cell markers and examining their frequency and localization within tissue samples to accurately identify NK cells and their phenotype within cancer.


I am grateful for this wonderful opportunity to cultivate my interest in immunotherapy and to continue building the necessary skills that will see me through my graduate studies and future career pursuits.



Name: Jaden Dedora


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


Project Title: Deciphering and harnessing the role of tumor-infiltrating B cells in anti-tumor immunity


Profile: I am starting my fourth year at the University of Victoria where I am completing my bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry (honours). This summer I will be doing a co-op in Dr. Brad Nelson’s laboratory at the Deeley Research Centre. Some of my favourite activities are cycling, disc golf and playing board games.


In the Nelson lab we are researching the role of antibodies from tumour infiltrating B cells with respect to cancer cells. To understand this mechanism we are uncovering the genetic sequence of TIL-B cell receptors and using it to produce recombinant antibodies. The goal is to interrogate the binding interaction between the recombinant antibodies and the cancer cell antigens to identify novel targets for the next generation of immunotherapies.


After completion of my undergraduate degree I plan to continue my studies in cancer and immunology research with a focus on protein biochemistry. The skills I will acquire and my professional development from working at Deeley Research Center will be invaluable to the next steps in my career. I am grateful to BioCanRx, Dr. Brad Nelson and everyone in the Nelson Lab for this opportunity.



Name: Dalia Ibrahim


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


Project Title: Therapeutic potential of novel Transglutaminase 2 (TG2) inhibitors as modulators of the ovarian cancer microenvironment


Profile: I just completed my Honours Bachelor of Science in Translational and Molecular Medicine at the University of Ottawa and will be starting my Master’s in Cellular and Molecular Medicine in the fall. In my free time, I enjoy playing sports, water skiing, and baking!


This summer, in Dr. Vanderhyden’s lab, I will be investigating the therapeutic potential of novel Transglutaminase 2 (TG2) inhibitors as modulators of the ovarian cancer microenvironment. More specifically, I will be looking at the effect of these TG2 inhibitors on macrophage polarization and extracellular matrix remodeling which are processes known to promote disease progression in the TME. This study will allow us to further characterize the role of TG2 in the ovarian cancer TME and to explore a potential biotherapeutic to minimize ovarian cancer disease progression.


The BioCanRx summer studentship will provide me the opportunity to refine my research skills and knowledge about cancer therapeutics which will help me throughout my grad studies, while also addressing an important need for better treatments for ovarian cancer.



Name: Ella McIlroy


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


Project Title: The Extracellular Matrix – A Barrier to Effective Oncolytic Virus Therapy


Profile: I have just completed my third year at the University of Ottawa where I’m studying translational and molecular medicine. This summer, I am looking forward to working in the Bell Lab at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute. In my free time, I enjoy playing hockey and tennis, as well as drawing, kayaking and playing the flute.


My summer research in Dr. John Bell’s lab will focus on the extracellular matrix (or ECM) – a common feature of tumours that can form up to 60% of the total tumour mass. It is well established that the dense, disordered ECM found in tumours is a significant barrier to chemotherapy, antibody therapy and immune cell infiltration, and promotes metastatic cell escape. It’s also a physical barrier to the success of oncolytic viruses. Early clinical trials exploring the expression of an ECM-degrading enzyme from an oncolytic adenovirus have demonstrated the safety of this approach, and given indications of increased therapeutic activity.


My project will involve constructing an oncolytic vaccinia virus expressing an ECM-degrading enzyme, SPAM1, and using this to determine whether virus-directed expression of the ECM-degrading enzyme improves virus growth and spread in primary patient material. I’ve always been interested in cancer biology and new avenues of cancer research. I’m very excited for this opportunity and I hope this fellowship will help me work towards a career in clinical research.



Name: Alexandria McRorie


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Doug Mahoney, University of Calgary


Project Title: Developing a novel “armored” CAR T cell therapy for cancer


Profile: My name is Alexandria McRorie, and I am entering my fourth year of my Bachelor of Science in Kinesiology with a minor in International Indigenous Studies at the University of Calgary. Outside of academics, I enjoy spending time baking with my family, hiking and skiing in the mountains, and volunteering for local initiatives.


I will be working on a summer research project in Dr. Mahoney’s lab investigating CAR T cell therapy, a novel cell therapy that has recently been validated for treating certain types of cancer in humans. This therapy has been shown to be effective in some types of leukemia and lymphoma; however, it suffers in some other cancers as well as solid tumours with premature T cell exhaustion and dysfunction. My role in this project is to generate clonal CAR T cell knockouts for five genes identified as genetic regulators of exhaustion to chronic CAR stimulation in cultured human T cells.


I have been incredibly interested in oncology for numerous years as cancer has had a significant impact on my immediate family. Following my undergraduate degree, I would love to pursue a career in healthcare, whether that be in medicine or physiotherapy. I am extraordinarily grateful to BioCanRx for facilitating this research opportunity, as it allows me to explore a field of study that I have not yet been able to explore and gain hands-on research experience.



Name: Brady McQuaig


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


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


Profile: I recently completed my second year of Life Sciences, specializing in Human Biology at the University of Toronto Scarborough Campus. This summer I am excited to have an opportunity to join a team of researchers at Sunnybrook’s Research Institute. Outside of school, I enjoy spending my time golfing, on the lake and spending time with my family!


During my summer research, I will be investigating culturally safe and effective methods to screen Indigenous people for colon cancer. My role in this project will include reviewing and synthesizing literature involving culturally relevant methods used in the past which will allow me to better my research and written communication skills. If time permits, I will also have the to opportunity implement some of the methods developed by our team.


In the future, I wish to become a well-rounded family physician. This experience will aid me in accomplishing this goal because it will expose me to the inequalities that can be found within the Canadian medical system. Being exposed to these issues will allow me to develop a greater understanding of the needs and qualities a well-rounded family physician should have.



Name: Nils Nordstrom


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Carolina Ilkow, Ottawa Hospital Research Institute


Project Title: Establishing an Externally Controlled Expression System for Oncolytic Vaccinia Virus


Profile: My name is Nils Nordstrom, I am originally from Ottawa and I just finished my second year of Honours Chemical Biology at McMaster University. Outside the lab I enjoy a wide variety of outdoor sports including running, biking, paddling, and cross country skiing. I am also part of the varsity cross country ski team at McMaster. When time allows, I really enjoy cooking and trying new recipes.


This summer I will be working in the Ilkow laboratory at the OHRI. The Ilkow lab works with oncolytic viruses as a treatment for cancer. These viruses have the ability to express medicinal products in the tumour. This process is unregulated and has some potential toxicity. This summer I will be working on introducing an expression system that can be controlled with the addition of Doxycycline in the vaccinia virus. This system will constitutively express the Tetracycline repressor protein (TetR), which represses the reporter gene GFP-P2A-Luciferase. When Doxycycline is added the expression of the reporter gene is turned on.


I am excited for this opportunity to learn how scientific research is conducted, and gain experience by working with experts in the area of cancer immunotherapy. In the future I am interested in pursuing a graduate degree, and this summer studentship will help me decide on my future path.



Name: Landon Steenbakkers


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. David Latulippe, McMaster University


Project Title: Accelerating development of continuous chromatography processes for virus purification using a real-time imaging method to quantify infectious titer


Profile: I recently finished the third year of my bachelor’s degree in Chemical and Bioengineering at McMaster University. Outside of class you would likely find me training at the pool as a member of McMaster’s Varsity Swim team. I also enjoy volunteering around campus and going for hikes/runs through the nature preserve next to campus.


This summer I am excited to be joining Dr. David Latulippe’s lab group (a well-established lab within the department of Chemical Engineering at McMaster University). My focus is on improving and optimizing existing methods used in viral vector purification. A large production constraint in viral manufacturing is associated with low throughput and high cost of existing purification methods. In effort to widen such bottlenecks, I will be working to optimize existing continuous chromatography processes using real-time cell imaging methods ideal for high-throughput cell assays.


It is my goal to work alongside my peers to solve problems and create a brighter future. This summer studentship is an amazing opportunity for me to make a difference while providing me with exposure to the world of biomanufacturing, gene therapy, and immunotherapy. This will feed my interest and help deepen my understanding of these complex fields all the while giving me the opportunity to develop fundamental skills for my future in research.



Name: Valeria Vasilyeva


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


Project Title: LAG3 is a checkpoint receptor that inhibits NK cells in cancer


Profile: : I am entering my final year of undergraduate studies in the Translational and Molecular Medicine program at the University of Ottawa. This summer I am very excited to be working in Dr. Ardolino’s laboratory at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in the Cancer Therapeutics Centre under the BioCanRx’s Summer Studentship program. In my spare time outside the lab, I love to hike in Gatineau Park, paint, and bake!


Dr. Ardolino’s laboratory investigates the complex interactions between immune cells and tumours to find new ways to harness the immune system to fight against cancer. My project aims to characterize the role the immune checkpoint LAG3 plays in NK cell exhaustion. Exhausted NK cells experience a decrease in their effector function which reduces their ability to eliminate harmful cells contributing to disease progression. These exhausted NK cells often upregulate immune checkpoints such as LAG3, and it is known that LAG3 inhibits T cell function. However, it is still not known if LAG3 inhibits NK cell function as well. We hypothesize that LAG3 drives NK cell exhaustion in mechanisms we are interested in discovering. Characterization of LAG3’s role in NK cell exhaustion will help to further develop immune checkpoint blockade therapies for the treatment of cancer.


In the future, I aspire to become a translational researcher in the cancer immunology field, and this incredible internship will ultimately allow me to contribute to cancer research as an undergraduate student. I am very grateful to BioCanRx for the opportunity to learn valuable laboratory and science communication skills in a real-life research setting where I can expand my immunology knowledge beyond the classroom!



Name: Xinyu Wei


Supervisor(s)/Institution: Dr. Naoto Hirano, University Health Network


Project Title: Enhancing anti-tumor T cell reactivity towards HLA-B7/NY-ESO-1 by exploiting TCR chain centricity


Profile: I recently completed my undergraduate studies in Pharmacology and Immunology at the University of Toronto. For this summer studentship, I will be working in the lab of Dr. Hirano.


My project is focused on engineering T cell receptors (TCRs) with improved reactivity towards the tumor associated antigen NY-ESO-1 presented on HLA-B7. These TCRs can be used to redirect T cells to target tumors with better efficacy in adoptive T cell therapy. NY-ESO-1 targeting-adoptive T cell therapies have historically been centred around patients expressing the HLA-A2 allele. This project aims to expand their clinical utility to include common HLA alleles such as HLA-B7 that are found in many different ethnicities.


Prior research experiences have sparked my interest in onco-immunology and translational research. This studentship provides an opportunity for me to further develop my skills and knowledge in cancer immunotherapy as I transition to graduate school in the Fall. Outside of the lab, I like to go running, kayaking, and exploring new things!