Amy Gillgrass

PhD Student

BSc Biology, McMaster University

MSc, McMaster University

905-525-9140 extension 22778









Our lab is very interested in the role of innate immunity in cancer.  Tumor cells form in our bodies all the time, but our innate immune system usually finds and destroys these aberrant cells.  It has been shown in animal models that boosting innate immunity has anti-cancer effects.  The Ashkar lab has several projects investigating the role of IL-15, NK cells and macrophages in breast tumors.  We utilize both in vitro and in vivo murine models to explore these topics.  We have found that NK cells and their phenotype are able to impact spontaneous breast tumor formation.  Ultimately, we wish to identify which cells of the innate immune system are important targets for cancer immunotherapies and how we could increase their potency.

Breast cancer is currently the most common cancer in Canadian women. My project focuses on enhancing the immune system to protect from breast tumor formation. IL-15 is an immune molecule that can affect multiple immune cell types involved in cancer destruction- including NK cells, CD8 T cells and macrophages. We have found that by increasing levels of IL-15 in mice that form spontaneous breast tumors, we are able to initiate tumor destruction, decrease metastasis and increase survival.  In contrast, mice that lack IL-15 have faster tumor formation and poor survival.  The aim of this study is to understand exactly how IL-15 overexpression/absence affects spontaneous breast tumor formation, progression and metastasis. The goal of this research is to identify the cell types that have been altered and their relative contribution to tumor progression/destruction.  Furthermore, we want to identify other immune targets that enhance the actions of IL-15 on tumor destruction. Ultimately, this project involves basic research that will contribute to a new, more effective immunotherapy directed against breast cancer.