Dr. Alicia Viloria-Petit

Meet Dr. Alicia Viloria-Petit


Keywords: Canine osteosarcoma, circulating biomarkers, comparative oncology, extracellular vesicles, mammary cancer, mammary tissue homeostasis, metastasis, molecular targeted therapy, tumour microenvironment

Profile(s): University of Guelph Experts, Department of Biomedical Sciences

Current Positions:

  • Associate Professor – Department of Biomedical Sciences, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON
  • Co-Leader – DOGBONe Research Platform, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, ON

Seeking Partnerships in the Areas of:

Comparative oncology (dogs and humans); Circulating biomarkers for cancer diagnosis, prognosis, and therapy stratification; Molecular targeted therapy

Education and Employment Background:

Dr. Alicia Viloria-Petit completed her PhD in Cellular and Molecular Biology with a focus on tumour angiogenesis and molecular targeted cancer therapy at the Department of Medical Biophysics of the University of Toronto, Canada. She was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute in the field of TGF-beta signalling and cancer metastasis prior to joining the Department of Biomedical Sciences at the University of Guelph in 2009.

Research Themes & Interests:

Dr. Viloria-Petit laboratory focuses on understanding how normal and tumour cells communicate with the surrounding microenvironment, and how this contributes to cancer development, dissemination to distant organs (metastasis), and response to therapy. Bone cancer (osteosarcoma) and certain mammary cancers are both prone to metastasize and behave similarly in dogs and humans. Dr. Viloria-Petit’s investigations aim to identify common mechanisms of metastasis for these cancers in dogs and humans, with the expectation that any impactful finding will be beneficial to both species. To accelerate discoveries and testing for potential clinical applicability, Dr. Viloria-Petit’s team collaborates with research groups at Guelph, other Canadian universities, and research institutions around the world. Dr. Viloria-Petit’s research in canine osteosarcoma has already identified potential circulating markers of prognosis and novel therapeutic targets, which are currently undergoing validation using in vitro and in vivo models of both canine and human osteosarcoma.

Her research currently focuses on the following major themes:

  1. Mammary homeostasis and cancer:
    • Determining what governs the decision between cell death and survival in mammary epithelial cells of different lineages. This research aims to identify signalling profiles associated to the ability to die or survive in response to physiological stimuli in normal mammary epithelial cells from different lineages and different species. Results from this research will improve our knowledge of cellular processes involved in mammary cancer development. They may also be applicable to the dairy industry by identifying strategies to prolong the life of milk-producing cells (and thus, milk production) in dairy cows.
    • Identifying fat cell-produced factors that promote breast cancer metastasis. Obesity associates with the development of more aggressive breast cancers. To investigate how the cells that form fatty tissue are involved in this process, Doctor Viloria-Petit and her collaborator Dr. Sherri Christian (Memorial University of Newfoundland) have created a co-culture model of breast cancer cells with fat cells. Using this model, they have found that fat cells promote features that may help cancer cells to efficiently establish themselves in organs distant to the breast, a process known as colonization (the last step of metastasis). Using a combination of biochemical, proteomic, and genomic approaches, they continue to use their co-culture model to identify the mechanisms and molecules involved in the pro-metastatic communication of fat cells and breast cancer cells. This research may lead to the discovery of markers for early detection of breast cancer as well as therapeutic targets for more effective treatment of breast cancers occurring in both obese and lean patients.
  2. Precision medicine in canine osteosarcoma:
    Dr. Viloria-Petit is the co-founder of the Dog Osteosarcoma Group: Biomarkers of Neoplasia and Emerging Therapies (DOGBONe) interdisciplinary research platform at the Ontario Veterinary College. She has been the co-leader of the group, together with Dr. Geoffrey Wood, since 2017.  DOGBONe currently consists of 8 members with varying expertise, including veterinary oncology, veterinary surgery, cancer immunology, cancer therapy, cancer biology, and population medicine. They bank and share tumour tissue and fluid samples, as well as share data, to maximize resource usage. The group’s goal is to accelerate the discovery of effective minimally invasive methods for the diagnosis, prognosis, and monitoring of canine osteosarcoma patients, and to develop more effective therapies for these patients. The three projects on canine osteosarcoma that Dr. Viloria-Petit is currently developing (below) all fit under the DOGBONe umbrella.
    • Profiling and validation of extracellular vesicles as circulating biomarkers of canine osteosarcoma. Extracellular vesicles (EVs) are small membrane-bound vesicles released to the extracellular environment by normal and tumour cells. EVs carry protein, DNA, RNA and lipid cargo, all of which can mediate tumour progression. As EVs can circulate in biological fluids, they also represent potential diagnostic, prognostic and therapeutic tools. Using tissue explants and plasma samples from canine osteosarcoma patients, the Viloria-Petit lab has optimized methods to purify EVs from these sources. They are currently characterizing these EVs by standard methods, and analyzing them via proteomic and genomic approaches to identify cargo of clinical value. So far, the Viloria-Petit group has identified one prognostic signature and one therapeutic target in canine osteosarcoma, both of which are under in vitro validation prior to clinical consideration.
    • Investigating the prognostic value of white blood cells in canine osteosarcoma. Recent studies in human cancers have demonstrated the role of specific white blood cell types and subtypes in tumour progression, with a demonstrated prognostic value for the total count and/or ratio of certain blood cell types. However, in veterinary oncology the diagnostic, prognostic or predictive value of white blood cells has been poorly explored. This project investigates the relationship between circulating white blood cell types/subtypes and patient prognosis, with the ultimate goal of discovering minimally invasive and cost-effective ways of predicting therapy response, and possibly identifying patients that could benefit from non-standard, molecular-targeted therapies.
    • The role of Hippo signalling-mediated mechanotransduction in canine osteosarcoma progression. Previous work by the Viloria-Petit group and others demonstrated the role of the Hippo signalling mediators and transcriptional co-activators YAP and TAZ in canine and human osteosarcoma progression and chemotherapy resistance. Their current work focuses on identifying determinants of TAZ and YAP activation in osteosarcoma, which are modulated by the tumour microenvironment in the bone and lung. In this regard, they have identified one protein that modulates TAZ and YAP levels in canine osteosarcoma, and are using molecular biology tools, such as CRISPR/Cas9 genome editing, to further understand how this process occur. This work will potentially lead to the identification of feasibly targetable mediators of TAZ and YAP activity in osteosarcoma, other than TAZ and YAP themselves, given their role in normal tissue homeostasis.

Select Publications:

Publication history at PubMed Compilation: Alicia Viloria-Petit


Dr. Alicia Viloria-Petit speaking about the DOGBONe Cancer Research initiative for canine osteosarcoma taking place at the Ontario Veterinary College, the University of Guelph. The research collaboration includes fellow Kennel to Cure investigators:
Profs. Byram Bridle, Geoff Wood, Michelle Oblak, and Paul Woods.


Email: aviloria@uoguelph.ca
Phone: 1-519-824-4120, Ext. 54925
Office: OVC Building, Room 3647

Ontario Veterinary College
University of Guelph
50 Stone Road E.,
Guelph, ON, Canada, N1G 2W1