The power of translational research

As part of a team studying and tracking cancer immunotherapy, Corby Fink, PhD Candidate, Department Microbiology and Immunology, gets an insider’s view of the unique scientific detective work taking place at Robarts.
And the investigation – an ongoing collaboration between the Dekaban and Foster labs – is about to enter an exciting new phase with a groundbreaking clinical trial for prostate cancer patients. If approved by Health Canada, it will be the first trial of its kind in Canada.
Working on the immunology side under supervisor Greg Dekaban, PhD, Fink collects and generates immune cells designed to attack cancer tumours.
At this stage, the cells are also labelled with an MRI-visible compound, which enables them to be tracked throughout the body using MRI.
The goal is to determine what happens to cancer immunotherapies in the body using a safe and effective imaging method.
“Right now, many of the clinical tests used to assess treatment are invasive,” Fink explained. “With this technology, we can monitor and predict the response of the cancer therapy, and help improve treatment.”
This translational research also has potential applications in other cancers and diseases. “Our work has broad implications,” said Fink. “It’s a major hurdle for monitoring all cell-based therapies.”
In his four years at Robarts, the PhD candidate has watched the project progress from preliminary animal models to a pending clinical trial. “Science can move very slowly sometimes, so I’m excited to be able to see the impact of our work through to this new phase,” he said.  
The collaboration between the Dekaban and Foster labs is made possible because of the research environment and facilities at Robarts.
“We avoid the typical barriers to collaboration,” Fink explained. “I only have to walk 30 feet to deliver the immune cells. And it means data is acquired at a much faster rate.”
In keeping with the spirit of collaboration, Fink also enjoys the occasional social activity with his Robarts peers.
This includes the annual Door Decorating Contest, of which the Dekaban lab is the reigning two-year champion. With a reputation for creative displays, the lab’s door has showcased items ranging from Tim Hortons’ holiday coffee cups to an impressive collection of expired blood tubes.
“We like to put a fun, science spin on the contest. And we really like pizza,” Fink said with a chuckle.
A graduate of the bachelor of medical sciences program at Schulich Medicine & Dentistry, Fink knew early on he wanted to pursue a career in research. Now with his doctoral degree within reach, he is keeping an open mind to both academia and industry.
“My experience at Robarts has exposed me to the power of translational research,” he said. “The potential impact and application of this work, it really strengthens my resolve in what I’m doing.”

Rapid Round with Corby

Favourite TV Show – How to Get Away with Murder
Favourite Food – Tacos
Favourite Band – Coldplay
Favourite Season of the Year – Summer
Favourite Spot on Campus – Any Tim Horton’s that doesn’t have a line
Favourite Book – Serena Williams: On The Line
Favourite Animal – Emperor Penguin