December 19, 2019

New immune-boosting approach could halt the spread of cancer cells to nearby organs

Dr. Victoria Hoskin, Postdoctoral Fellow at Queen’s Cancer Research Institute.

Dr. Victoria Hoskin, OMPRN grantee, wins best poster presentation at the 2019 Terry Fox Research Institute Ontario Node Research Symposium for her novel approach to preventing cancer metastasis

The vast majority of cancer-related deaths are caused by cancers that have spread – or metastasized – to other organs. Breast cancer cells, for example, often spread to nearby lymph nodes where they can settle, grow and spread to more distant organ sites, evading surgery and chemotherapy treatment. Dr. Victoria Hoskin has set out to stop these migrating cancer cells in their tracks.

Earlier this year, Hoskin and an interdisciplinary team of researchers at Queen’s Cancer Research Institute (QCRI), found that a specific protein, ezrin, which plays a key function in cancer metastasis, may also have an important immune-modulating role. They went on to find that when ezrin is blocked, the immune system’s T-cells can better recognize, engage and kill the migrating cancer cells in surrounding lymph nodes. As she describes in her recent Oncotarget editorial, these findings may represent a new method to not only prevent cancer metastasis, but to also engage the immune system.

“When we blocked ezrin, we saw that the cancer cells couldn’t migrate and invade into other tissues,” says Hoskin, who is a Postdoctoral Fellow at QCRI. “We’re excited by these findings because they point to a new way to reduce the spread of cancer cells and to potentially boost the immune response against these cancer cells.”

Throughout the course of her research, which was supported in part by the Ontario Molecular Pathology Research Network (OMPRN), Hoskin helped develop a novel experimental animal model that allowed her and her team to track and monitor cancer and immune cells in vivo. The model, she describes, was the critical tool behind her discovery, allowing her to look deeper into the behavior of cancer cells and T-cells within specific organs.

Last week, Hoskin presented her research at the 2019 Terry Fox Research Institute Ontario Node Research Symposium. Among more than 120 other presenters, she won one of three poster presentation awards. Other presentation award recipients included:

  • Parasvi Patel, PhD Candidate, University of Toronto and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre
  • Noor Shakfa, MSc Candidate, Queen’s University and Queen’s Cancer Research Institute

Hoskin and her collaborators plan to further investigate how T-cells interact with cancer cells in the absence of ezrin.

“What we’ve found is not only scientifically interesting, it could be clinically significant,” says Hoskin. “Metastasis is a serious challenge and our research efforts are dedicated to finding a new solution.”

Learn more about OMPRN

Read more about the 2019 TFRI Ontario Node Research Symposium.