Home Current Projects A Short Biography

Active Research (2023)

completed projects are presented in my .


Torsten Nielsen, Michael Underhill, Martin Hirst, Angela Goytain, Tony Ng, Ainiah Raquib, Kiera Lee, Amy Wang, Jamie Yu. Adolescent & young adult sarcomas: translating basic science into clinical care.

Pre-COVID, we secured a highly competitive 5 year renewal for our research program supported by the Canadian Cancer Society's Impact grant program. My group is focussing on a group of cancers that occur in the limbs and soft tissues of young people, and bear known molecular driver mutations (usually chromosomal translocations that produce fusion oncoproteins). Our multi-pronged program of investigations seeks to understand the effect these driver mutations have on the epigenome and on chromatin structure, how phase-transitioned biomolecular condensates act as an effector mechanism for sarcoma biology, how genetically-engineered mouse models can identify cells of origin, and how this research can be used to develop new diagnostics and treatments for this group of cancers.

Kevin Jones, Martin Hirst, Jakob Hofvander, Kiera Lee, Alvin Qiu, Anika Hsu, Michael Underhill, Brad Cairns, Scott Lowe, Marc Ladanyi, Ana Banito, Torsten Nielsen. Targeting SS18-SSX biology in synovial sarcomagenesis.

This major program project was funded by the US National Institutes of Health through their FusOnC2 (Fusion Oncoproteins in Childhood Cancer) program. Working with collaborators at the University of Utah, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York, and Deutsches Krebsforschungszentrum we are undertaking a comprehensive program to develop conditional models probing the origins of synovial sarcoma, to determine how its mutant oncoprotein alters the epigenomic landscape of mesenchymal tissues, and to identify therapeutic vulnerabilities. Within this consortium, I direct the clinical specimen and translation core.

Torsten Nielsen, Jamie Yu, Irene Andrulis, Jay Wunder, Lingxin Zhang, Martin Hirst. Enabling precision oncology of sarcomas in Canada.

The Terry Fox Marathon of Hope represents a national initiative to accelerate Canada's transition to a future of precision oncology -- treatment directed to the specific underlying molecular mechanisms driving each individuals' tumor biology. Our group has, in collaboration with prominent sarcoma researchers at the University of Toronto, been funded to generate a public resource of genomic, transcriptomic, epigenetic, histologic and clinical information about sarcomas. We are currently focussing on synovial sarcoma, chondrosarcoma and a spine tumor type called chordoma.

Breast Cancer

Gregg Morin, Yueyang Li, Stephen Chia, Sam Leung, Julie Ho, Shelby Thornton, Jamie Yu, Elahe Shenasa, Torsten Nielsen. Development of novel breast cancer biomarkers.

We have been funded by the Canadian Cancer Society to work with Gregg Morin's recently-developed SP3-CTP proteomics technology: developing proteomics-based profiles on pathology biopsy specimens and validating their use as potential clinical tests. We have been awarded additional funding from the Canada Foundation for Innovation to identify, source and install new technologies for in situ validation of cancer biomarkers. With these funds, we have   obtained a nanoString Digital Spatial Profiler, Leica autostainers, Aperio ScanScope and Zeiss Axioscan hardware and associated image analysis software that actively are being implemented for this program of research.

Torsten Nielsen, Matthew Ellis, Chuck Perou, Phil Bernard, Elisabeth Stovgaard, Maj-Brit Jensen, Anne-Vibeke Laenkholm, Nazia Riaz, Tim Whelan, Caroline Lohrisch. Clinical trial correlative science translation of breast cancer molecular subtypes.

Beginning with some of the first molecular profile work in breast cancer, our group has been developing practical clinical tests for the major molecular subtypes of breast cancer, tests that can determine biology, guide risk assessment and therapy. This has led to some of my most cited papers which have related to development of immunohistochemical panels for Luminal and Basal subtypes, and the PAM50 gene expression profile. The latter was transferred to the nanoString platform and has been cleared for use by the FDA, Health Canada and EU as a validated clinical test known as Prosigna. Ongoing work seeks to extend these findings – better IHC panels, identification of additional low risk groups who can safely undergo therapeutic de-escalation, and predictive tests.

Torsten Nielsen, Sam Leung, David Rimm, Lisa McShane, Mitch Dowsett, Dan Hayes. International Ki67 in Breast Cancer Working Group.

The proliferation marker Ki67 is convenient, inexpensive, technically & biologically sensitive and specific and can be used to differentiate low risk breast cancers that need limited treatment beyond surgery from high risk cases that need more aggressive treatment. However, as we have detailed over a decade of research, precise and accurate scoring of the Ki67 proliferative index is challenging. We are continuing to support pathologists worldwide in delivering this biomarker through development and dissemination of supporting software and guidelines for visual and digital scoring.

Torsten Nielsen, Elahe Shenasa, Katherine Rich, Ali Bashashati. Optimizing triple negative breast cancer therapy based on immune cell morphology.

Our most recently-funded grant (supported by The Cancer Research Society) will use digital image analysis technology being developed by my biomedical engineering collagues to assess immune infiltrates that, within a clinically high-risk but molecularly heterogeneous group of breast cancers, may (a) have such a good prognosis that chemotherapy may not be needed, or (b) benefit specifically from capecitabine treatment as opposed to conventional chemotherapy, checkpoint or PARP inhibitors.

I'd be happy to discuss any of these topics with you!

last updated 2022 December 20