2 Ottawa residents named to Order of Canada
Order of Canada one of the country’s highest civilian honours
Dr. Robert Korneluk did not set out to be a cancer researcher. He sort of just fell into it.
But due to his contributions to cancer immunotherapy research, he was one of 103 people appointed by Governor General Julie Payette to the Order of Canada on Thursday.
"I never imagined it would have happened but it's a great honour," Korneluk told CBC Radio's All In A Day.
Korneluk started as a genealogical researcher at Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario nearly three decades ago. During that time he and his team discovered a family of genes that controls cell death which led them — and other researchers around the world — to significant breakthroughs in cancer treatment.
"If you turn [these genes] off, cancer cells would become susceptible to being killed by various methods," he said.
Clinical trials are now underway to test if the drugs that target these genes can be mixed with immunotherapy to kill off cancer cells while leaving healthy cells alone.
Korneluk said that such a treatment could be significant in that it doesn't have the negative effects associated with other cancer treatments like radiation therapy or chemotherapy.
Clinical trials started last year and so far patients are not getting sick from the treatment, Korneluk said, though they won't know the full results for at least another year.
"Bu we're clearly banking on the side that it will be effective."
Another Canadian with a local connection was also appointed Thursday.
Daniel Lessard had a 39-year career at Radio-Canada that saw him serve as a national correspondent on Parliament Hill before being promoted to Ottawa bureau chief.
He's being named in part for his analysis and popularization of Canadian politics, particularly in Quebec.
"A lot of people in Quebec — when the Parti Québécois was very small — were not interested in federal politics," which was a challenge for him, he said.
"But I knew that at the end of the day that they were listening."
Like Korneluk, Lessard said it was a great honour and surprise to be named to the Order of Canada.
"At first I said 'Oh my god do I deserve that?'" he said, "It's a great honour."
Another local scientist — Dr. Vernon Burrows — was already a member of the Order of Canada but has received a promotion. Burrows is now an officer of the Order of Canada for his agricultural research on oats.
With files from Amanda Pfeffer