Dr. Jeanette Boudreau

Dr. Jeanette Boudreau

Dr. Jeanette Boudreau

Inflammation, Infection & Immunity, Molly Appeal

Targeting viruses and cancer

Immunologist Dr. Jeanette Boudreau brings a wealth of knowledge about Natural Killer (NK) cells to Dalhousie Medical School from her previous post at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Centre in New York City. She’s taking this knowledge to the task of programming NK cells to selectively target and destroy cancerous and virus-infected cells, in collaboration with Dr. Andrew Makrigiannis and other colleagues at Dal.

“NK cells are complex, highly variable white blood cells that differ not only within a single individual but also from person to person,” notes Dr. Boudreau, an assistant professor in the departments of Microbiology & Immunology and Pathology. “This means we can leverage different NK cells to attack different kinds of viruses and cancers, and transfuse NK cells from one person to another to maximize their effect.”

In her lab, Dr. Boudreau studies NK cells obtained from Canadian Blood Services, which routinely removes NK and other white blood cells from donated blood supplies. She combines these NK cells with cancer cells (lung, pancreas, breast, melanoma, leukemia) and cells infected with HIV and cytomegalovirus, and runs them through a flow cytometer to analyze the interactions between the killers and their target. She is enthusiastic about the powerful new flow cytometer being purchased through the proceeds of the 2016-17 Molly Appeal.

“NK cells have 20 or more different kinds of receptors on their surfaces and, of course, cancer and virus-infected cells have many different ‘flags’ on their surfaces for NK cells to see and destroy,” she says. “Our current flow cytometer limits the number of these surface features that we can see at the same time, while the new machine will let us analyze as many as 14 at once. This is like the difference between looking through a porthole and a floor-to-ceiling window, to understand the complete picture of what’s happening and how we can manipulate both NK cells and the target cells to eradicate disease.”

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