In Conversation with Dr. Neil Berinstein


Jen: Welcome, Dr. Berinstein. Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. Could you tell our readers a bit about your role as a clinician researcher in the field of oncology and hematology at Sunnybrook Hospital?

Dr. Berinstein: Thank you for having me. Certainly, my role as a clinician researcher is multifaceted. I spend half of my time dedicated to research, focusing particularly on hematologic malignancies, and exploring innovative approaches such as immunotherapy and targeted therapy. These targeted therapies are designed to specifically address the abnormal pathways within cancer cells, moving away from traditional cytotoxic drugs with their associated side effects.

Jen: Dr. Berinstein, can you tell me about your relationship to University of Toronto?

Dr. Berinstein: Yes, I’m a professor of medicine, but I’m also a professor of immunology at the University of Toronto. I’ve had a lab at the University of Toronto. I’ve had a dozen students over the years achieve their PhDs or masters in the department of Immunology, doing various types of basic immunology research. And at one point in my career, I was head of a global program sponsored by a pharmaceutical company to develop vaccines for cancer.

Jen: That sounds like fascinating work. Could you tell us more about your involvement in vaccine development for cancer and how it fits into the broader landscape of cancer treatment?

Dr. Berinstein: Certainly. I’ve been deeply involved in vaccine development for cancer, recognizing the tremendous potential of harnessing the immune system to target and eradicate cancer cells. While the field of immunotherapy has seen significant advancements with monoclonal antibodies and CAR T cells, vaccines for cancer remain a challenge. However, their potential for providing targeted and long-lasting protection is undeniable, like the efficacy we see with vaccines for infectious diseases like COVID-19 or the flu.

Jen: Dr. Berinstein, your translational research trials seem to be making significant strides in advancing lymphoma cancer treatment. Could you share more about the trials you’ve been leading and their impact on patient care?

Dr. Berinstein: Absolutely. I’ve been leading translational trials focused on diseases like diffuse large B cell lymphoma and Waldenström’s macroglobulinemia. These trials aim to bridge the gap between basic research and clinical outcomes, with a particular emphasis on identifying patient subsets that may benefit most from novel treatments. One trial is now in the results analysis phase.  We have a team, including a masters student, pouring through the clinical, biologic and immune data from this trial.  Through extensive biomarker analysis and collaboration with six centers across Canada and 25 patients, we’re striving to improve outcomes and tailor treatments to individual patients.  I really enjoy organizing trials even though they are a lot of work from start to finish.  It’s only when you’re “in the trenches” that you realize how complicated even a single clinical trial may be.

I am also working on another trial that involves 66 patients with ten centres across Canada.  This trial involves using a new targeted therapy in combination with some standard drugs that are used for Waldenstrom Macroglobulinemia. Because we are expected very strong clinical responses from this novel combination treatment we are collaborating with a well known biotechnoloby company to perform very sensitive molecular analyses of blood and bone marrow to document how deep these responses are.  We are alco collaborating with other researchers to look for novel gene mutations that may eventually be potential targets for new drugs.

Jen: It’s evident that your work encompasses both research and clinical care. How do you balance these responsibilities in your day-to-day life?

Dr. Berinstein: Balancing research and clinical care are indeed a complex task. My typical week involves seeing around 60 patients, conducting research, responding to patient inquiries, and engaging in teaching activities. While it’s challenging, having a structured schedule and a supportive team allows me to effectively manage these responsibilities and continue making meaningful contributions to both fields. I also participate in some review committees that evaluate new drugs that will eventually become available to cancer patients.

Jen: Can you tell our community about your involvement in Myeloma at Sunnybrook?

Dr. Berinstein: In the Odette Cancer Centre, my myeloma practice has significantly increased and  I’ve become the lead for our myeloma group.  I’ve written the guidelines that we use in our cancer centre for how we manage myeloma.  Myeloma is quite complicated because we have new drugs and different treatment paradigns continually .  The field is changing so rapidly because of research and advancements around the world that we often need to rewrite the guidelines every six months.

Jen: Dr. Berinstein, reflecting on your career, what achievements are you most proud of, both professionally and personally?

Dr. Berinstein: Professionally, I take pride in being able to contribute to cancer research and in my small way helping to contribute to some of the better understanding and treatment advances that have been  made in improving patient outcomes. From my involvement in vaccine development to leading translational trials and shaping treatment guidelines, each tiny milestone represents progress in the fight against cancer. Personally, I’m proud to see two of my children following in my footsteps, pursuing careers in medicine and research. I am glad that they wll have the opportunity to make contributions in their medical fields

Jen: Thank you, Dr. Berinstein, for sharing your insights and experiences with us. Your dedication to cancer research and patient care is truly inspiring.

Dr. Berenstein: It’s been my pleasure. Thank you for the opportunity to discuss the important work being done in the field of oncology and hematology and my connection to Israel Cancer Research Fund.  I really do feel that research is making, continues to make, and has made important, huge strides for people with cancer.  That is why I am such a big fan of the work that ICRF does, the answer to cancer really is research.

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