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HSIP 2009 Program


2009 HSIP Interns (Clockwise: Katie Neale, Keeley Hammond, David Ou, Janine Hsu)

Histology as a tool for Cancer Diagnosis and Research - Led by Researchers Katy Milne and Sindy Babinszky

The aim of the this project is to give the two selected HSIP students a chance to see how various histological techniques are used in the diagnosis of cancer and as a means of taking a closer look at the characteristics of the tumor microenvironment in research.

Part of the project will involve looking at the world of biobanking and how the BC Cancer Agency´s Tumour Tissue Repository (TTR) collects patient samples and provides a valuable source of tumour tissue for study. The TTR is a gateway between patient participation in research and the researchers need for cohort collection. The TTR provides a platform where patients, their surgeons and pathologists can have a direct impact on cancer research by the donation of blood, annotated tissue and clinical data to the TTR to provide a full picture of that patient´s cancer diagnosis and treatment to researchers. To make all this happen a network of communication exists between all those who are involved with the patient´s treatment including surgeons, pathologists, nurses and hospital clerks. During your summer here at the DRC you will visit a small corner of the world of biobanking through the day to day procedures that occur at the TTR as well as learn about the bigger picture of biobanking internationally.

Students will participate in the Immune Response to Ovarian Cancer (IROC) project in determining suitable markers for identifying tumor cells cultured from patients. Hopefully there will be an opportunity to learn cell culture and grow up some cells to take through to the stage where histology would be performed as well. A panel of known ovarian cancer cell lines will also be characterized using histological markers and compared to the IROC cell lines. Other patient samples to analyze may include ascites samples.


 Mouse Mammory Tumour Project - led by Researchers Dr. Michele Martin and Eric Tran

Breast cancer is estimated to affect 1 in 10 women. While newer treatments have improved the 10­year survival rate, certain types of breast cancer still have a poor prognosis.

Approximately 30% of breast cancers are classified as “HER2 positive”.  HER2 is a transmembrane protein that is expressed at the surface of HER2 positive breast cancer cells and acts as a receptor for a growth factor. Over­expression of this protein is correlated to more aggressive breast tumours and consequently, a poor prognosis. While there are treatments that can effectively induce remission, HER2 positive tumours frequently recur and metastasize to distant sites. Thus, more effective therapies are needed for this type of breast cancer.

We are investigating the adoptive immunotherapy technique for treating this type of breast cancer. Adoptive immunotherapy involves the isolation of a patients´ own tumour reactive immune cells (“killer” T cells) followed by a massive in vitro expansion of these T cells. After expansion, this “army” of tumour reactive T cells is re-infused back into the patient, with the expectation that these T cells will recognize and destroy the tumour. While this technique has been used to successfully treat melanoma (a type of skin cancer), it has yet to be evaluated in the setting of human breast cancer.

Using an innovative mouse model for HER2 breast cancer, we have been able to develop breast cancer cell lines and test them for susceptibility to the adoptive immunotherapy technique. Using these cell lines, we have determined that one cell line (NOP21CR) is completely responsive to adoptive immunotherapy and these tumours fully regress following treatment and do not recur. Another cell line (NOP23PR) is partially responsive to adoptive immunotherapy. T cells can initially induce regression of these tumours, but for some reason, these tumours recur and then continue to grow. A third cell line (NOP18PD) is completely unresponsive to adoptive immunotherapy; T cells are unable to affect the growth of these tumours. Therefore, a major question that we are interested in is: “why are some tumours resistant to T cells?” To answer this, we used an experimental gene expression technique (“Affymetrix”) to assess the entire gene expression profile of these three different tumours. In doing so, we have determined that there is a subset of genes that is differentially expressed by these tumours, and some of these genes may be responsible for the differing susceptibility to T cell therapy. By identifying the critical genes responsible for the different sensitivities to adoptive immunotherapy, we may be able to enhance the efficacy of this treatment. We may also be able to predict whether a patient´s tumour would respond to adoptive immunotherapy, or whether a different treatment option would be more beneficial.

This summer, the interns will be involved in validating our Affymetrix data using the quantitative polymerase chain reaction (QPCR) technique. To do this, our interns will be involved with the isolation of messenger RNA (mRNA) from tumours, followed by the synthesis of complementary DNA (cDNA) and then assessing gene expression using QPCR. This will also involve the hands-on design of QPCR primers, an important part of the experimental technique. Depending on our results, we may also validate our experimental findings at the protein level using the Western Blot technique.


Meet the Interns

Katie Neale - Oak Bay Secondary School




Keely Hammond - Mt. Doug Secondary School




Janine Hsu - St. Michael´s University


Janine is currently in grade 12 at St. Michael´s University School. As a student of the Victoria Conservatory of Music, she enjoys playing piano at various community events, local churches and many private functions. In addition to performing solo piano, Janine thoroughly loves being a part of the school orchestra in the viola and sometimes violin section. As well as music, Janine is a fervent field hockey right striker. She looks forward to being a member of the U18 Island hockey team again in January for her sixth and final year!

Other than music and sports, Janine is involved in groups such as the B.C Cancer Foundation Youth in Philanthropy Committee; she also volunteers at the Jubilee hospital in the renal dialysis unit. Janine´s passion for creating science projects and designing experiments has led to her participation in regional and national science fairs where she can freely explore her curiosity.

“I feel extremely privileged to have had the opportunity of working alongside the DRC research team this summer. The HSIP has undoubtedly been the most exciting and eye-opening experience I have ever had. Exposures to current research techniques as well as insights into cancer knowledge have further strengthened my interests in the field of cancer research. In the future I hope to learn more about cancer biology, and pursue my interests in scientific research and in helping to improve cancer treatments.”



David Ou - Parklands Secondary School