Brian Keller - 2017 Winning Essay

Brian Keller

Approximately 220 years ago, Edward Jenner conducted a series of translational experiments that later manifested in the successful global eradication of smallpox, a directed endeavour that has been credited with saving more lives than any other in human history. Today, medicine is faced with a different and perhaps more sinister problem: cancer.

As a candidate in the combined MD/PhD program at the University of Ottawa, I have sought clinical and laboratory-based research training that I am using to link these stories.

Oncolytic viruses are a rapidly-emerging class of anti-cancer therapeutics that work by directly killing cancer cells and by training the immune system to target such cells. I am working to optimize Vaccinia virus, originally developed as a smallpox vaccine, for use as an oncolytic virus. We have taken an innovative approach to viral engineering, which is designed to make a Vaccinia backbone with cancer-specific killing and immune-stimulating properties. In laboratory studies, our candidate appears to be superior to the current clinical standard, results that we will publish in our next manuscript.

As a future physician, I plan to help some of our sickest patients within the field(s) of oncology and/or immunotherapy while addressing timely and clinically relevant biological questions in the research arena. On a systemic level, I will aim to address the tangible divide between clinicians and basic scientists by increasing collaborative efforts worldwide. With a successful translational research program in Canada, I believe we can address some of medicine’s biggest problems.