Team up with patients

3 min
Dre Rahima Jamal

It is fortunate for the CRCHUM that Dr. Rahima Jamal left her studies in Communications behind after realizing that scientific dissemination wasn’t the right fit for her. Now a hemato-oncologist, researcher and medical director at the Unit for innovative therapies (UIT), her long journey has led to her applying her vast knowledge and empathy to the development of innovative treatments for melanoma.

Originally from India, Dr. Jamal arrived in Quebec at the age of 12 and fell in love with Montreal. As an adult, she studied journalism, before branching out into molecular biology and then medicine. Her residency in oncology allowed her to discover her true vocation: clinical cancer studies. 

Her specialization in drug development at Queen’s University, Kingston, finally led her to the CHUM in November 2011. There, she convinced Carole Jabet, then CHUM’s Associate Director of Research, to use the available infrastructure to create a clinical research centre specializing in phase 1 and 2 studies.

Pioneering infrastructure

Dr. Jamal then worked to set up the UIT, where she has served as medical director since its inception in the fall of 2018. This innovative clinical platform enables researchers to carry out projects that require close monitoring of participants.

Thanks to this platform, we can offer Quebec patients world-class treatments to which they would not otherwise have access. It’s a great asset for Quebec, she asserts.

Together, she and her team are carrying out phase 1 and 2 clinical trials on melanoma patients who have received every standard treatment without any improvement in the prognosis of their disease. 

For example, they are developing molecules that remove the brakes on T lymphocytes, an immune cell essential for tumor elimination, or oncolytic viruses that enter the tumor to cause it to disintegrate and release a molecule recognized by the immune system.

Microorganisms as backup

In collaboration with the multidisciplinary team at the Centre du microbiote, which includes Dr. Bertrand Routy, Director of the CRCHUM’s Laboratory of immunotherapy and oncomicrobiome, Dr. Jamal is also conducting phase 1 and 2 studies on the benefits of fecal transplants in the treatment of melanoma and lung cancer. 

An initial study carried out at UIT with twenty Stage 4 melanoma patients showed that fecal transplantation increased the efficacy of melanoma treatment by 20%—a very promising result. 

This is the first study to demonstrate that the response to immunotherapy can be modified. Studies are also underway to determine the most effective strains of bacteria, the ideal quantity, combinations of strains and the possibility of recreating the microbiota in vivo.

We have made impressive advances in the last ten years, but sometimes patients don’t respond to treatment. In such cases, our role is one of support and guidance. A partnership is created between doctor and patient to change the course of the disease. It’s a special relationship, because the patients are just as invested as the doctors; they are often fighting for their lives, and we offer them a new chance to heal. — Dr. Rahima Jamal

This portrait is taken from our 2022-2023 Activity Report

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