Dr. Gerald Batist heads the Jewish General Hospital’s cancer care and world-class research team who are making exciting progress against the disease

Dr. Gerald Batist

Dr. Gerald Batist, Director of the Jewish General Hospital’s Segal Cancer Centre

Dr. Gerald Batist is enthusiastic when he talks about projects of the cancer research team he heads as Director of the Segal Cancer Centre at the Jewish General Hospital (JGH).

“We’re making progress on all fronts,” he said. “We’re able to diagnose cancers earlier, we can do liquid biopsies using just blood samples to learn the DNA of tumours, and we have new targeted treatments and ways to deliver them. There are many exciting projects we are working on.”

Almost all the projects have one thing in common: they rely on seed money from JGH Foundation donors to get off the ground. “We use that crucial funding to get projects started, to turn ideas into solid evidence and data that we can then use to support applications for additional large-scale funding from governments and private industry,” Dr. Batist said. “It’s vital.”

It also allows the JGH’s Lady Davis Research Institute, of which he is Deputy Director and a Senior Investigator, to recruit world-class scientists who know they can count on the vital financial support they need to pursue their ideas. “The JGH Foundation helps us jump on a good idea and take it further, and that’s what attracts great researchers,” Dr. Batist said. “We need to be agile and that’s what donors to the JGH Foundation help us do.”

World-leading cancer projects

One such project is the development of new Quebec-designed technology to administer cancer therapy in a truly innovative way. It uses magnetized bacteria called Magnetodrones to deliver almost any kind of cancer therapy directly to tumours, guided by a specialized device that also provides a 3D view of the tumour and the treatment being delivered. Rather than just delivering chemotherapy into a patient’s bloodstream to treat cancer, the system directs the drug straight into the tumour tissue, hopefully making it more effective with fewer side effects.

This technology was developed by a Montreal-based company, Starpax Biopharma, which itself grew from nanorobotics research at Montreal’s École Polytechnique. With seed money from donors to start research on the technology at the JGH, the project secured additional funds from the Quebec government that has allowed the construction of a dedicated centre at the hospital with the new equipment – the only one in the world to date.

For the past year, researchers have been testing the equipment and process, including publishing very encouraging animal test results that should lead to the start of its first use in human patients this fall, Dr. Batist said.

“This technology has untold potential,” he added. “Thanks to the funding we received, we have developed this Quebec technology into a new way of delivering cancer treatment directly to otherwise inaccessible tumour sites.”

Another innovative project for the delivery of cancer treatment is the JGH’s work with Salspera, a biotech company in Minnesota. The project involves using salmonella (the bacteria of gastro illness fame) that have been encoded with a cancer treatment to stimulate and help the immune system fight advanced and otherwise untreatable pancreatic cancers. Promising results from an early study of 20 patients at the JGH have shown an increase in median survival time, so a much larger study is about to be launched in the U.S. and at the JGH.

“We can only do this work because donor support provides us with the infrastructure we need to take on this type of research and move quickly,” said Dr. Batist. “That ongoing support is invaluable.”

New process could transform radiation therapy

A third exciting project is a promising new way of delivering cancer radiation therapy that could allow such treatments to be given almost anywhere – “such as in a local clinic,” said Dr. Batist – rather than in expensive specially constructed radiation-proof rooms in major centres.

This promising development grew out of the COVID-19 pandemic when radiation treatments were interrupted early due to fears of COVID contamination from asymptomatic infected patients. Their presence in the sealed radiation treatment rooms could risk the health of other patients. Dr. Batist reached out to global colleagues for potential solutions which led to a connection with a startup in Israel that was developing a whole new way of delivering radiation to tumours – implanting tiny radioactive seeds directly into the tumour via an endoscope.

Again, because it has the infrastructure in place to move quickly, thanks to the support of JGH Foundation donors, the Hospital is now leading the development of this procedure. “This could change the face of radiation therapy,” said Dr. Batist enthusiastically. “We’re seeing dramatic benefit which, if it is proven and developed, could allow radiation treatment to be given almost anywhere, even in remote areas.”

Support from donors to the JGH Foundation continues to figure in many of the ongoing projects at the Segal Cancer Centre, including via the annual fundraising event Le Week-end pour combattre le cancer. Since 2009, participants, supporters and sponsors have raised over $62 million from cancer fundraising events like Le Week-end to make a significant difference in the fight against this terrible disease. This year, Le Week-end takes place on Sunday, August 20. Participants of all ages and abilities will walk or cycle across scenic routes in Vaudreuil-Dorion.

“Having the JGH Foundation there for us makes all the difference in the world,” said Dr. Batist.

Your support matters! To help fight cancer at the Segal Cancer Centre, you can register or donate to Le Week-end pour combattre le cancer at le-weekend.ca

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