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New co-directors set next steps for U of G’s Comparative Cancer Centre

Prof. Michelle Oblak, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph Prof. Geoff Wood, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph An integrated approach to cancer studies has defined the Institute for Comparative Cancer Investigation (ICCI) at the University of Guelph since its inception in 2007.
 
Combining the expertise of researchers in basic cancer biology and clinicians in veterinary medicine, ICCI’s approach has captured the U of G and Ontario Veterinary College’s (OVC) unique strengths to broaden the scope of research and deepen understanding of cancer in pets and people.
 
In addition to enhancing cancer research among U of G scientists, ICCI facilitates collaboration with academic cancer researchers outside of the university and with industry partners.
 
Beyond ongoing research, ICCI members also offer advanced care for patients in the world-class Mona Campbell Centre for Animal Cancer, at the OVC Health Sciences Centre, dedicated to cancer diagnosis, treatment, teaching and clinical research. The ICCI also maintains a tumour bank and frozen blood samples for future studies.
 
University of Guelph and Ontario Veterinary College professors Paul Wood and Brenda CoomberAfter more than 12 years leading ICCI as co-directors, OVC Biomedical Sciences professor Brenda Coomber and Paul Woods, a professor of internal medicine and oncology in OVC’s Department of Clinical Studies, completed their terms on August 31, 2020.
 
Effective September 1, 2020, Profs. Michelle Oblak, a veterinary surgical oncologist and professor in OVC’s Department of Clinical Studies, and Geoff Wood, a cancer researcher and professor in OVC’s Department of Pathobiology, took the helm as co-directors of the ICCI. Oblak and Wood have served as assistant co-directors for the past five years.
 
“We are excited to continue the work of Profs. Woods and Coomber as we continue to evolve the ICCI and its role within the University of Guelph and Ontario Veterinary College,” Oblak and Wood note. “As a result of the ICCI, the impact of cancer research at the University of Guelph continues to grow. There has been significant progress in the veterinary oncology clinical trials program and the Mona Campbell Animal Cancer Centre has played a pivotal role in several important translational discoveries, including the evaluation of mammary and bone cancer vaccines in animals that are now being trialed in humans.”
 
"The ICCI acts to catalyze interdisciplinary research, not only for clinicians and cancer biologists but also to take a truly One Health approach, engaging a diversity of disciplines of relevance to cancer,” says OVC Dean Jeff Wichtel.
 
“I’m grateful for the leadership and vision Profs. Brenda Coomber and Paul Woods have provided to establish the success of the ICCI we see today,” says Wichtel. “Our new co-directors Profs. Oblak and Wood will no doubt further this success as they work with stakeholders to set an exciting future course for the ICCI.”
 
Research output from the centre has made international headlines. Examples include:
 
Paul Woods studies comparative oncology and cancer treatment in companion animals and has been involved in a number of international clinical trials. Among these have been studies to advance care in bone cancer (osteosarcoma) in dogs through novel therapeutics and vaccine-based treatment to kick-start the dog’s immune system into fighting the cancer.
 
Brenda Coomber has studied cancer for more than 30 years including work with lymphoma in dogs to develop a predictive biomarker test to assess a patient’s response to chemotherapy – research that could translate to help people.
 
Geoff Wood recently collaborated with Wellcome Sanger Institute in the United Kingdom on a One Health study comparing cancer genomes from human mucosal melanoma, canine oral melanoma and equine melanoma. The study was the first to sequence equine tumours, and first to compare the genomes of the above three species. 
 
In 2018, Michelle Oblak led a successful reconstructive skull surgery, implanting a custom 3-D printed skull plate in a dog with a large cancerous growth on her skull. Oblak, along with partners at Sheridan College and Western University’s ADEISS, imaged and built a 3-D model of the dog’s skull, along with a personalized skull plate, which resulted in a faster, safer and improved life-saving surgery.
 
More recently, Oblak was named the first holder of the new Animal Health Partners Research Chair in Veterinary Medical Innovation funded by Animal Health Partners, a veterinary referral and emergency hospital in Toronto. The new research chair will facilitate sharing of clinical case material, specialized equipment and expertise, as well as new opportunities in comparative and translational research and training.
 
“I’m grateful for the leadership and vision Profs. Brenda Coomber and Paul Woods have provided to establish the success of the ICCI we see today,” says Wichtel. “Our new co-directors Profs. Oblak and Wood will no doubt further this success as they work with stakeholders to set an exciting future course for the ICCI.”
 
Photo 1: Prof. Michelle Oblak, Department of Clinical Studies, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph
Photo 2: Prof. Geoff Wood, Department of Pathobiology, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph
Photo 3: Prof. Paul Woods, Department of Clinical Studies, Prof. Brenda Coomber, Department of Biomedical Studies, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph