University of Calgary

First Canadian to receive U.S.-based award

UToday HomeFebruary 8, 2013

By Laura Herperger

Dr. Douglas Mahoney, a member of the Alberta Children’s Hopsital Research Institute (ACHRI), is working on oncolytic virus therapies. Photo by Laura HerpergerDr. Douglas Mahoney, a member of the Alberta Children’s Hopsital Research Institute (ACHRI), is working on oncolytic virus therapies. Photo by Laura HerpergerDr. Doug Mahoney is the first Canadian to receive the Young Investigator Award from the Alliance for Cancer Gene Therapy. The U.S. non-profit foundation supports research in cell- and gene-based therapies for the treatment of cancer.

Mahoney is a new recruit at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Research Institute, a medical research institute at the University of Calgary dedicated to health issues involving children and mothers. He moved to Calgary in July to establish a lab to study oncolytic viruses for the treatment of childhood cancers.

“I really wasn't expecting to win, not at all,” says Mahoney. “It feels really nice that this organization has such confidence in me and my research program.”

Mahoney went through a rigorous two-step process to achieve the award. His grant application was studied by a scientific board representing Mount Sinai, John Hopkins, Mayo, Harvard and Yale University. He then faced a second review by peers.

Margaret Cianci is the executive director of ACGT in Stamford, Connecticut. She points to Mahoney’s strengths as a scientist.

“Mahoney is the definition of a young investigator,” says Cianci. “We are very excited to select him because the work in this field is very promising.”

“We are extremely proud to have Dr. Mahoney in Calgary,” says Dr. Brent Scott, executive director of ACHRI. “It recognizes the best in basic science and provides hope that on the clinical side, children with cancer will see improved therapies.”

Oncolytic virus therapy is the science of engineering viruses to attack cancer cells without harming the patient. Mahoney describes it as a new class of medicines.

“We now know from animal models that when the virus gets into a tumor and begins destroying it, that process elicits a strong immune response towards the virus, which can thwart its therapeutic efficacy. We want to teach those immune cells to participate in clearing the cancer from the host.”

Mahoney’s laboratory is now equipped and staffed and his team has begun preliminary experiments with a focus on pediatric soft tissue and bone sarcomas.