Dr. Michel Duval
Stem cell learning… for kids
Head of the Hematology-Oncology Department and clinical researcher
CHU Sainte-Justine Research Center
As a father of three children, all in very good health, Dr. Michel Duval devotes his time to helping children who are not as lucky. The French-born paediatrician is particularly concerned about young patients with a recurrence of cancer after a bone marrow transplant, a problem in 30% of cases.
“It’s tragic that we still have no cure for children with chemotherapy-refractory cancer, such as acute lymphoblastic leukemia,” he says. The only hope of recovery for these children is stem cell transplantation, because the donor’s immune system eliminates leukemia cells. For 10 years, Dr. Michel Duval has been the director of the Hematopoietic Transplantation and Cell Therapy Program at the Charles-Bruneau Cancer Center at the Sainte-Justine University Hospital, one of Canada’s most prolific cord blood transplant centres. He now wants to make it a cell therapy hub.
“We were the first pediatric group outside the United States to administer CAR T-cells,” he says proudly. This project with Novartis for the Eliana study is one of his group’s many collaborations with industry in recent years.
Immunotherapy and stem cells
The CHU Sainte-Justine stands out for the innovative design of its clinical trials in oncology and for its research platforms that accelerate discoveries with bedside application. In this context, the clinical researcher is working on the development of immunotherapy based on plasmacytoid dendritic cells (pDC). This novel approach aims to stimulate the innate immune system to increase the effectiveness of hematopoietic stem cell transplantation.
“I am a clinician who treats patients, but also a researcher who tries to improve treatments. I try to bring discoveries from the lab to patients.”
To this end, it is collaborating with the Centre of Excellence in Cellular Therapy at Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital to set up a Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP) pDC production unit for humans, with a view to conducting early clinical trials in patients who still have leukemia after hematopoietic stem cell transplantation. “We have tested the treatment in humanized mice and the response is fantastic,” says the researcher, visibly excited. “Now, we are looking for partners to develop this approach in the clinic.”
The doctor with the colourful clothes – he has a collection of African-print shirts – is also interested in everything related to palliative care for children, as well as pain management and communication ethics.
“The most important thing in clinical research is not the equipment, but rather the team in place,” he says. And that’s precisely the great wealth that is found here.”