CRI Funded Scientists

Eric Y. Zhao, MD, PhD, Postdoctoral Fellow

University Health Network

Area of Research: All Cancers

While immunotherapy, which triggers one’s own immune system to attack tumors, is the most effective treatment for some types of cancer, it does not provide long-term cancer control for most patients who receive it. To try and increase the number of patients who benefit, researchers are searching for ways to pre-treat patients to make cancer more easily detectable by the immune system, referred to as immuno-sensitization. When a patient is receiving immunotherapy or immuno-sensitization treatment, there is currently no quick and effective test to know whether it is working and successfully stimulating the immune system.

Dr. Zhao’s research project aims to detect stimulation of the immune system using a simple blood test. He will analyze strands of DNA floating in the blood and trace them back to their origins, which may be tumor, normal tissues, or blood cells from the immune system. From the blood sample, he plans to develop a way to measure and “score” immune activation, and will then apply this analysis to blood samples collected from patients on immunotherapy clinical trials to see whether this immune activation score indicates who is benefitting more from immunotherapy in a more timely fashion. He will also apply this approach to patients receiving other cancer treatments to see whether any of these treatments trigger immune activation. This test will give doctors and researchers a new, non-invasive way to monitor and study the effects of immunotherapy in patients.

Projects and Grants

Monitoring anti-cancer immune activation using circulating methylomes in liquid biopsy

University Health Network (Canada) | All Cancers | 2021 | Trevor Pugh, PhD

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