For years, Dr. Jim Petrik and his lab team at the University of Guelph have focused on improving the quality of tumour blood vessels. While it may sound like this helps the tumour, the approach is showing promise for improved treatment delivery.

“Most of the time, blood vessels within tumors form extremely rapidly. As a result, they don’t develop properly and end up providing an ineffective blood supply,” explains Dr. Jim Petrik, a researcher and professor. “This has a negative impact on treatment because we rely on these same blood vessels to deliver chemotherapy.”

To address the issue, Dr. Petrik’s team collaborated with researchers at Harvard University to develop a peptide (or small protein) that eliminates defective blood vessels to establish a healthy blood supply, which supports improved uptake of drugs.

Their current research examines a combined approach, which introduces the peptide to the tumour and then treats the tumour with viruses that destroy cancer cells. Presently, this method is being tested on scientific models based on advanced stage epithelial ovarian cancer. However, research results may inform treatment of other subtypes of ovarian cancer, and possibly other types of cancer altogether.

Dr. Jim Petrik

According to Dr. Petrik, improving a tumour’s blood supply brings down its coping mechanisms, making it less aggressive. As well, if treatment can reach tumours more effectively, smaller quantities of drugs may be needed, and this could make way for reduced toxicity and fewer side effects.

Dr. Petrik’s lab is one of two to benefit from the 2017 Ovarian Cancer Canada and Cancer Research Society Operating Grants, which are partially funded by proceeds from the Sue Deacon Cup. Through a partnership with Cancer Research Society, funding brought forward by Ovarian Cancer Canada is matched to provide two-year grants in support of highly ranked projects in ovarian cancer research.

“This funding is absolutely critical in allowing us to conduct pre-clinical studies,” says Dr. Petrik. “In the coming years, we hope to move this work to a clinical trial to improve the health and survival of women with advanced stage ovarian cancer.”

The research submission put forward by Dr. Petrik ranked first in this year’s operating grants competition. As a result, Dr. Petrik’s lab will also benefit from a studentship from the Andy – Léna Chabot / Cancer Research Society Fund. Provided by Andy Chabot, past President and CEO of the Cancer Research Society, and his daughter Léna, this support will bring added capacity by enabling the research team to hire an undergraduate student for four months. At the same time, the opportunity will encourage the student to pursue a career in cancer research.

Dr. Petrik’s earlier work received support from Ovarian Cancer Canada in 2010 when a related submission to the CIHR (Canadian Institutes for Health Research) Operating Grant Competition earned bridge funding. This enabled Dr. Petrik’s lab to continue operations as further funds were secured.

Dr. Petrik and members of his research team at the Walk

Dr. Petrik and members of his research team at the Walk

In addition to advancing research, Dr. Petrik is actively involved in the community. For the last two years, he co-chaired the Ovarian Cancer Canada Walk of Hope in Guelph, ON.