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Innovation at the Princess Margaret


The Cancer Warrior Unleashed



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.

The Princess Margaret’s 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 Tumor 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,”

Dr. Tak Mak is seen at a July 3, 1984, press conference about the cloning of the T-cell receptor.

Image courtesy of University Health Network Archives. The image has been modified.

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. Today, the immunotherapy program at The

Princess Margaret is growing and more than 1,300

patients have been treated through clinical trials in

the past two years alone.

T-cell or


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

Discovery and Innovation

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