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Frank in hospital bed and Dr. Lepic by his side
Frank Tousaw’s life was transformed by a stem cell transplant. Now, the newly expanded stem cell unit at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre will be able to treat more patients.
October 30, 2020

New stem cell unit means hope for more patients

Ron and Nancy Clark Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapies Unit opens at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre

After months of construction and preparation, Hamilton Health Sciences’ (HHS) Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre (JHCC) has officially opened a newly expanded unit for patients needing treatment for blood cancers.

The new Ron and Nancy Clark Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapies Unit was unveiled at a virtual event on October 30. Physicians and staff at the unit will start providing patient care in November.

“We are at an exciting time in our hospital’s history with the opening of this unit,” says Dr. Ralph Meyer, Vice President of Oncology and Palliative Care at Hamilton Health Sciences’ Juravinski Cancer Centre, and Regional Vice President of Cancer Care Ontario. “Many teams have worked very hard to make this a reality, and they are excited to be able to provide improved access to this lifesaving therapy.”

The expansion was made possible through $25M in funding provided by the Government of Ontario, and through $5M raised by the Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre Foundation through its Tomorrow Stems from You® campaign.

The new unit is named in recognition of the late Ronald Clark and his wife Nancy Clark of Caledonia. The agri-business owner gifted more than $1M to the campaign. Ron, who died in 2019, was a patient at the Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre.

“We are truly honoured to have this important unit named for Ron and myself,” says Nancy Clark. “We are grateful that Ron’s memory will always live on in this unit and through the amazing work that the teams at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre passionately perform every day.”

Stem cell unit sign

The sign in the new stem cell unit, which opened at Juravinski Hospital and Cancer Centre for patients needing treatment for blood cancers

Serving patients across southern Ontario

Stem cells, the building blocks of the blood system, are used to treat many different illnesses including blood cancers such as lymphoma and leukemia. A stem cell transplant replaces a patient’s diseased stem cells with a matching donor’s healthy cells to help fight the cancer.

The JHCC is one of just three centres providing all forms of stem cell transplants to adult cancer patients in Ontario.

The new unit builds on Hamilton Health Sciences’ (HHS) expertise in the field of blood cancer treatment. The expansion will help the cancer program increase capacity for patients requiring allogeneic (stem cells from a donor) and autologous (using the patient’s own stem cells) transplantation, and will advance HHS’ abilities to provide chimeric antigen receptor T-Cell (CART-Cell) therapy to meet the needs of patients from the region as well as parts of Mississauga, Halton, Niagara, Waterloo, Wellington and Windsor.

More treatments, teaching and research

Additionally, the unit creates new capacity to expand and advance HHS’ roles within teaching and research that are part of the hospital’s Complex Malignant Hematology service.

The expanded unit features:

  • State-of-the-art design for a healing environment
  • 15 new inpatient rooms
  • 5 new outpatient bays
  • Expanded laboratory and pharmacy space
  • Two lounge areas for family and friends, both equipped with kitchens

Delivering the highest standard of seamless integrated quality care is of paramount importance to support this specialized patient population. The collaborative care model in which highly trained clinical teams work together with allied health providers (including social workers, dieticians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, pharmacists, respiratory therapists, laboratory technicians and others) has been expanded to ensure all aspects of care are addressed for each patient.

A national leader

“With this new capacity, HHS staff and physicians will be able to continue to build on 50 years of innovative treatment and research in this specialty area of care,” says Dr. Meyer.

Several former and current health care providers whose historic contributions laid the foundation for today’s stem cell program attended the launch event.

It has been 32 years since Dr. Irwin Walker, a leader in hematology at the JHCC, performed the first successful Canadian stem cell transplant with an unrelated donor. Since then, the hospital has become a national leader in all forms of stem cell transplantation and cellular therapy.

Transforming lives with stem cell transplants

The need for stem cell transplants is greater than ever. In the 2019-2020 fiscal year, JHCC performed 285 transplantation procedures – 211 with the patient’s own cells and 74 with donor cells. This is twice as many procedures as five years ago.

Frank Tousaw is one patient whose life was transformed by a stem cell transplant.

In 2013, Tousaw was diagnosed with Double Hit Lymphoma. After his stem cell transplant, he went into remission and was able to get back to work and a normal life.

“I’m grateful for the amazing care I received,” he says. “Now I have a hopeful tomorrow that will allow me to watch my kids make their way in the world.”

In addition to being a grateful patient, Tousaw played a critical role as part of the Patient and Family Advisory Council. Council members provided input on the design of the new unit based on their experiences with previous stem cell transplants at JHCC.

For more information about the new Ron and Nancy Clark Stem Cell Transplantation and Cellular Therapies Unit, visit the Hamilton Health Sciences Foundation website.