Interview series - New Professor - Meet Dr. Michele Ardolino

Posted on Thursday, January 12, 2017

New Assistant Professor in the BMI department

Dr. Michele Ardolino is an immunologist whose aim is to fight cancer by using the immune system. He started his laboratory at the Ottawa Hospital Research Institute in November 2016 and is a member of the department of Biochemistry, Microbiology and Immunology.  

What is your background?

I am an immunologist who is specialized in studying the interactions between the immune system and cancer. My interest for the immune system goes a long way back. When I was an undergraduate student I was fascinated by the complexity of the immune response, and I decided to pursue a Ph.D. in Immunology at the University of Rome. I then moved to Berkeley in California to work with David Raulet as a post-doctoral fellow. I spent 6 years in Berkeley studying how a population of immune cells called Natural Killer cells respond to cancer. Last January, I was recruited by a joint effort of uOttawa and the OHRI and I moved to Ottawa in November 2016.

 

Tell us about your research?

The immune system is the best weapon the body has to fight cancer. There are many ways our immune system recognizes and responds to tumors and yet, cancer is still killing millions of people worldwide. This means that tumors often find a way to overcome the immune response. The goal of my research is to understand what mechanisms are used by tumors to suppress the immune system. We have some promising leads that we are currently investigating using both mouse models and clinical samples.

 

What are some applications of your work?

A better understanding of the reasons why the immune system fails to kill tumor cells is of immense therapeutic potential. In fact, discovering new pathways exploited by tumors to suppress the immune response will lead to the development of new immunotherapeutic strategies to mobilize the immune system against cancer. Moreover, a deeper knowledge of the immunological processes in the tumor microenvironment will help optimizing the delivery of more tailored immunotherapy by stratifying the patients with respect to the clinical approach that is more likely to succeed. Only a profound comprehension of the dynamics between the immune system and the tumors will allow this huge step towards tailored therapy.

 

What got you interested in immuno-oncology?

Any single tumor I have dealt with outsmarts the brightest of us immunologists by a factor of ten. The complexity of the interactions between tumor and immune cells is so beautiful and hard to deconvolute that makes me wish to learn more and more every single day. I am extremely fascinated by the evolutionary struggle between our body and cancer. I see the immune system as one of the main forces driving these complex dynamics and I think there are a lot of exciting opportunities for both basic and clinical scientists in this field.

 

What’s the most interesting thing about you that we wouldn’t learn from your resume?

You would guess from my resume that I am Italian but what you would not know is that I am a very good cook and I love wine. In the kitchen as well as in the lab I love to experiment and try new approaches. I must say, a well thought and designed experiment is much more satisfactory to me than a nice dinner, but as my wife says: “This lasagna will not get your paper into Nature, but definitively got you into my heart”. So I guess I need both.

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