More than 1,500 friends of Toronto’s Dr Jack Bird are lending their superhero names to help ensure all preschoolers are vaccinated against a rare cancer.
Bird, an immunologist at the University of Toronto, has received a grant of $615,000 from the Canadian Institute for Advanced Research to create superheroes – e.g. Professor Bird – who can be posted to busy corners to collect evidence that DNA from vaccinations can cause cancer.
“During childhood vaccination we place our immunology know-how at risk,” he said. “Chemicals in the vaccine itself may give children Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which in turn can cause leukemia, both of which will affect the way their body reacts to the vaccine. And we can’t know what other genetic mutations are produced by vaccination. The puzzle has to be solved.”
On Earth Day 2019, @DrJackBird will be making superheroes all over the City of Toronto to campaign for better and earlier childhood vaccination. https://t.co/lojw7GkaKV pic.twitter.com/eHp3tZLhLF — University of Toronto (@uottawa) April 19, 2018
In 2014, Bird vaccinated a Toronto preschooler by giving her an injection out of his Doctor Who-themed pants as she played with their onesie, which sported an adorable Dr Who logo. One of her other caregivers found the vaccine needle.
The child later fell ill with suspected inhalational Hodgkin’s lymphoma and, in the years following the vaccine incident, was diagnosed with an even rarer form of the cancer.
Bird has spent the past two years working on a new method of tracking whether vaccines produced potentially dangerous DNA breaks. In 2014, he carried out a 10-week pilot study that used 130 genetic samples from patients in seven centres.
No cancer genotype matched the 11 patients identified by the DNA data collected, a sign that Bird is taking a new approach.
“The technique that I found allows me to follow the genetic data over a four-year period of time,” said Bird. “We can follow a family for the future of eight years at a time.”
His work prompted a prize-winning short film titled My Name is Dr Bird. Bird will be making superheroes to help children in Toronto vaccinate at pick-up at the city’s Splash pad on Wednesday.