Innovation at the Princess Margaret

The history of immunotherapy stretches back decades, involving many researchers around the world who have helped sort out the complex pieces of the immune system puzzle.

Understanding the T-cell has been a key part of that puzzle. The T-cell can attack and destroy cells infected with viruses. Most importantly for immunotherapy, it can also take on cancer cells.

Dr. Tak Mak helped advance our understanding of the T-cell with a significant discovery. It was in his lab that the human T-cell receptor was first cloned in the 1980s.

Dr. Pamela Ohashi, co-director of The Princess Margaret’s Tumour Immunotherapy Program (TIP) and a member of the Immunology Department at the University of Toronto, was working with Dr. Mak when that discovery was made. It provided the foundation for future understanding about the immune system and how it could be used to fight cancer.

Half a world away, the breakthrough inspired Dr. Naoto Hirano. “I was in Japan, I was very excited,” he says. “I thought that Tak Mak was a genius.” Dr. Hirano never dreamed they would meet. Three decades later, they are colleagues at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre.

The understanding of the T-cell has steadily increased over time, and Dr. Ohashi’s own career was heavily influenced by these advances.

Today, she works with Dr. Linh Nguyen and Dr. Marcus Butler on adoptive T-cell therapy at The Princess Margaret.

In 2005, Dr. Ohashi, Dr. Nguyen and their colleague Patty Yen travelled to the U.S. to learn about adoptive T-cell therapy. This was the origin of immunotherapy at The Princess Margaret.

Many important discoveries have been made by members of the research team at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre that are providing key insights for translating and developing novel clinical trials that will benefit more patients.

T-cell or T-lymphocyte

An important type of white blood cell that can kill cancer cells.

T-cell Receptor

A molecule found on the surface of T-cells, responsible for guiding the immune response to targets such as viruses or cancer cells.

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