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Cynthia Hawkins – 2021 Pediatric Feature Grant Recipient

Cynthia HawkinsCynthia Hawkins – Hospital for Sick Children

Project Title: “Investigating treatment targets in the DIPG immune landscape using single cell technology”

Description of Project:

Diffuse intrinsic pontine gliomas (DIPG) are incurable tumours that account for nearly 10% of all pediatric brain cancers. Current therapies are ineffective, and the median survival remains under a year with near 100% fatality. DIPG tumour cells evade selective pressures of the immune environment which is key to it becoming an incurable entity. Modulating the evasive process has been a game-changer for skin, lung and breast cancer; transposing the existing drugs to improve outcomes in DIPG is promising. However we do not know yet if the molecular targets of these successful drugs are present in DIPG, in fact we know very little about the immune presence in DIPG. Further limitations are that current studies use bulk tumor tissue where highly heterogenous cell compositions of DIPG are masked by summative effects. Single-cell technologies have enabled us to identify cellular origins, genomics drivers of treatment resilience and highlighted treatment vulnerabilities in other cancers. Here we propose for the first time to leverage single-cell RNA sequencing to investigate the landscape of immune cells in DIPG tumor and interrogate for existing drug targets. We expected our results to allow the repurposing of successful drugs to improve outcomes in this incurable disease.


What receiving this award means:

I am very grateful to the Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada for supporting our DIPG research. These funds will allow us to use cutting edge technologies to investigate how the immune system interacts with brain tumour cells and brain tissue to help or hinder the growth and invasion of the cancer cells. This funding is critical to allow us to pursue novel ideas and generate breakthroughs for this devastating cancer.