Digital Innovation Showcase 2021: Innovation in… Cancer Treatment

PhD candidate Quinn Storozynsky is investigating two therapies to treat a form of brain cancer.


I have always been drawn to the concept of discovery and innovation. My motivation for pursuing the sciences is a passion for discovering new ways of doing things, or elevating current paradigms to even higher paradigms, is the foundation. Achieving something new, something no one else has achieved before, or solving a problem deemed unsolvable; this is what I want in life and this motivation has pushed me throughout my academic career thus far. 

During my undergrad I became fascinated with the biology of cancer. This led me down a rabbit hole of complexity I have never escaped. 

Cancer is insidious. It completely unhinges the very fabric of reality of those afflicted with the disease. Most of us know someone in our lives that was seemingly fine one day, then the next, cursed with the incredible hardship that is cancer. Cancer crashes the party of life and slowly saps away the spirits of everyone around it. Put simply, it is a disease we need to eradicate.

Early in my academic career, I felt compelled to learn more about cancer and the current therapeutic strategies used to combat the disease. This obsession led me to the lab of Dr. Mary Hitt at the University of Alberta.

Our lab uses a novel therapeutic strategy to battle cancer referred to as “oncolytic virus therapy.” In short, we genetically modify viruses to be tumor-selective and kill cancer cells. Due to the genetic manipulations we have induced in our virus, normal cells/tissues are spared from the virus, whereas cancer cells are not. This tumor-selectivity provides a level of safety in using oncolytic viruses as a treatment strategy. 

An advantage of using oncolytic viruses to treat cancer is that viruses are self-amplifying entities. This means that when one cancer cell is infected with a virus, the virus replicates and produces more and more of itself to a point where the cancer cell bursts (literally explodes!). This releases an army of viruses that can infect neighboring cancer cells and repeat the process. In this way, the virus infection spreads throughout a tumor, hopefully eradicating the disease. Additionally, oncolytic viruses can also stimulate an immune response against cancer. Put another way, the destruction of cancer cells by an oncolytic virus can “teach” the immune system to recognize and target the same cancer. Altogether, oncolytic viruses can directly kill cancer cells, but also recruit the immune system to aid in cancer cell killing.

Quinn's Innovation Showcase Poster

My research specifically focuses on investigating oncolytic virotherapy in combination with radiotherapy for glioblastoma. Glioblastoma is a deadly brain cancer with approximately 14-months survival after diagnosis despite an aggressive treatment regimen involving surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy. Furthermore, greater than 95% of glioblastoma patients are deceased within five-years of diagnosis, highlighting an urgent need for novel therapeutic strategies to combat this dismal disease. Currently, radiotherapy is an established therapeutic modality and a staple for treating glioblastoma. However, glioblastoma cells can invade deep into normal brain tissue and be “missed” by radiotherapy. Furthermore, glioblastoma is an expert at “concealing” itself from the immune system, meaning a patient’s immune cells cannot attack it effectively. Our oncolytic virus may help kill glioblastoma cells “missed” by radiotherapy and/or aid in “teaching” the immune system to recognize and kill these “concealed” glioblastoma cells. This combination may lead to better therapeutic outcomes than either strategy would have alone.

Research from our lab may uncover more effective treatment strategies for eradicating glioblastoma. Importantly, the principles uncovered here will apply to other forms of cancers and may contribute to the translation of preclinical research, ultimately leading to improved patientcare and clinical outcomes for everyone afflicted with this deadly disease.

The University of Alberta's inaugural Digital Innovation Showcase features the research of graduate students and postdoctoral fellows. View posters and engage the presenters on Twitter May 10-14, 2021 #UAlbertaInnovationShowcase.


Quinn Storozynsky

Quinn Storozynsky is a fifth year PhD candidate in the Department of Oncology at the University of Alberta. He moved to Edmonton in 2016 after graduating from the University of Lethbridge with great distinction and a BSc in biology.