“To leave something behind that helps save lives or make lives better is a great motivator when we’ve spent much of our adult lives in research.”
Carolina Alfieri is working on concurrent projects at Montreal’s CHU Sainte-Justine Research Centre, including one that aims to build a human antibody to prevent the effects of Epstein-Barr, a virus linked to cancer.
Before the recovery, before the remission, before the treatments, or early detection, there is the research. To outsmart the more than 200 cancers affecting Canadians, the tireless work of researchers is vital. Their breakthroughs lead to new and more effective ways to prevent, detect, and treat cancer.
For more than 30 years, virologist Carolina Alfieri has been one of those researchers.
In fact, she’s spent most of her adult life striving to better understand and respond to the impact of the Epstein-Barr virus, which is known to increase the risk of lymphoma and other cancers. Carolina’s work could help prevent cancer in at-risk individuals with compromised immune systems, especially children.
“Cancer research in Canada has advanced tremendously,” she notes. “I don’t see research as a luxury, I see it as a must. I have seen the benefits come a long way and it’s been great to be part of that action. Thirty or forty years ago, there were very few funding initiatives and kids died of their leukemias. Now, 80 percent are saved, but 20 percent aren’t so lucky — and that’s why the research continues.”
She and her team are getting close to achieving their goals. Reaching this point has been a journey for Carolina. It’s a story that started with the microscope and grew into a lifelong fascination and a fierce desire to save lives.
“The microscope is a big deal for me,” she says. “My mentor was an infectious disease clinician. He taught me a lot about clinical virology and research virology. I watched the cells that carried this virus dividing under the microscope. That was fascinating. I started my career with the Epstein-Barr virus and I’m very likely to end my career with it.”
Today, Carolina’s project seeks to build what is known as a ‘humanized antibody’ that will prevent the Epstein-Barr virus and the cancers it can cause.
With 2 years of funding from the Cancer Research Society, Carolina believes she and her team will soon have the data to prove that their work could block the Epstein-Barr virus. Carolina hopes that, ultimately, her project will help prevent cancer and save lives. And as she looks at the pace of cancer research in Canada, she’s not just optimistic – she’s excited about the future of cancer care.
Looking at her work, and the advances of research in Canada, Carolina gives great credit to the Cancer Research Society for their role in funding the most promising Canadian research.
“It’s organizations like the Cancer Research Society that have made a lot of this possible — the ability to understand, to get to the truth of how things work. What drives us is knowing that the research is meeting its milestones and working to save lives and better the lives of people with cancer.”