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HSIP 2011 Program

High School Group Photo 2011

2011 HSIP Interns (Clockwise from Top Left: Laticia Davies, Emma Thomson, Leah Kelley and Michelle Kim)

Histology as a tool for Cancer Diagnosis and Research - Lead by Researcher Katy Milne

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.


Students will also be completing various work required by other projects as you would in the role of a histological technician.    Like the work of the students before them, their contributions will help enrich many projects at the Deeley Research Centre that require immunohistochemical analysis.  Specifically the students will be developing protocols for staining tissue for two or more markers of interest and then analyzing stained tissue using equipment brand new to the DRC.  The Nuance Multispectral Imaging system applies different wavelengths of light to a sample allowing separation of spectra of different coloured dyes used for the different markers of interest.  Most double immunostaining uses a red-brown colour combination of dyes which is hard to distinguish by eye, especially when the markers are located very close to each other (co-localization).  The Nuance system enables us to see the interactions of the markers more clearly and to determine which markers are co-localized.  This will enable us to ask a wide range of questions about different immune cell types in tumors and how they interact. There will also be some independent study in learning to look at tissue and recognize different features.


In addition to developing protocols, the students will also analyze different components of the protocols to determine the most reliable, cost-effective method for use in the lab, they will drive the development of techniques that will become routine in the lab.  Their problem-solving skills, ability to research and evaluate options and provide their opinions will be crucial to the success of their project.  They will also do other histology work as they would if they were working in a regular histology lab, learning about different techniques and the important role that histology plays in cancer diagnosis and research. They will become familiar with tissues and tumours at the microscopic level and will learn to recognize and distinguish different samples.  They may also have the opportunity to help develop immunofluorescence protocols depending on timing.  And will also be involved in other areas of lab maintenance including assisting with maintaining safety and inventory records and in small projects designed to help maintain an efficient laboratory.


Additionally, students may have an opportunity to take a look at the world of biobanking and how the BCCA’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.  During your summer here at the DRC you may 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.


In conjunction with histology, the student may also work on PCR genotyping of our transgenic mouse strains.  This won’t require any direct mouse work; small tail samples come to the DRC and are then tested by PCR for certain genes to determine whether or not the mice are useful for certain experiments.


 Mouse Mammory Tumour Project - Lead by Researchers Dr. Jill Murray and Juzer Kakal


It is estimated that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer over the course of their lifetime. Given its prevalence, research has been focused in several areas including: causes, risk factors, early detection and development of novel therapies for this disease. The primary focus of the Trev and Joyce Deeley Research Centre is to study the molecular mechanisms of cancer cells in order to be able to better prevent, detect and treat many of these epithelial cancers. One of the major focuses of our lab is to try and better understand how our immune system acts to fight cancer and whether it can be safely manipulated in order to control cancers. Recent studies have revealed that solid tumors are not merely a compact mass of identical cells, but a population of different cell types, structural frameworks and nutrient delivery pipelines. This allows the tumor to be highly adaptable and eventually become invasive.

While breast tumors have diverse properties, approximately one third of breast tumors have been found to have a higher than normal expression of a growth factor receptor molecule (HER2) on the surface of the tumor cells. These “HER2 positive” tumors have also been shown to have higher rates of recurrence and metastasis. Interestingly, immune cells with anti-tumor potential are commonly found within tumor tissues, including HER2 positive tumors, and patients with a higher amount of these cells tend to have longer disease-free survival. In order to study how diseases such as cancer behave within a mammalian body, laboratory animals such as mice are commonly used in research. Our lab has developed several novel mouse models for HER2 breast tumors in order to study the anti-tumor immune response . We observed that some tumors regressed when treated with anti-tumor immune cells while other tumor did not.  We are interested in understanding why different responses were observed.  While one of these tumors constructs physical barriers to prevent immune cells from infiltrating inside, another tumor, while allowing immune cells to infiltrate, prevents their action through secretion of small “anti-immune” molecules. When we examined the gene expression profile of these different tumor models, we found several genes that may play a role in either constructing the physical barriers or directly suppressing the anti-tumor activity of these infiltrating immune cells.



We would like to directly examine the role of these genes that are abnormally increased or decreased in these tumor cells (compared to healthy cells). In order to do these, these genes will be artificially overexpressed in recipient tumor cell-lines in order to try and revert these cells towards a “normal”, non-cancerous character. This project builds upon the findings of previous data generated by previous high school interns (Jason Wang, Nicole Crooks, Janine Hsu, David Ou), supervised by Drs Michele Martin and Ronald deLeeuw.


Role of students:

The students will be mentored by Dr. Jill Murray, a postdoctoral fellow and Juzer Kakal, a research assistant in order to carry out the molecular cloning of a handful of candidate genes and their insertion into the recipient tumor cell-lines. Students will learn a variety of basic molecular biology techniques including RNA isolation, reverse transcription, polymerase chain reaction, and bacterial transformation.  In addition to this project, the students will also be integrated in the day-to-day duties such as presenting novel research findings at regular meetings as well as participating in the day-to-day activities of a research laboratory.


Meet the Interns






Laticia Davies, Victoria High School








Leah Kelley, Edward Milne Community School








Michelle Kim, St. Andrews Catholic School









Emma Thomson, Oak Bay Secondary School

Cancer is a disease that has affected me personally as so may other people. My goal is to help to understand why this disease is different.  I would like to raise awareness on how to protect yourself from it.  This program is great because it allows students to experience firsthand lab work.  I have interests in medicine and research and hope that this summer will help to direct my interests further.  The project I will be working on is Histology as a tool for Cancer Diagnosis and Research looking at various characteristics of tumours.