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  • Sarah Nersesian, BScH, MSc (she/her)


Dr. Jeanette Boudreau

Program of Study:

PhD, Microbiology and Immunology

Project Title:

Determining the prognostic value of natural killer cell infiltration in ovarian cancer

Research Summary:

Ovarian cancer is known as the silent killer because patients often have the disease for a long time before it is detected, making it hard to treat. At diagnosis, treatment is often to surgically remove as much as possible. This has to be followed by chemotherapy and radiation to target any remaining cancer. Unfortunately, the cancer returns in 70% of these patients and fewer than 50% of patients live to 5 years after their diagnosis. New treatments called immunotherapies that aim to boost or activate a person’s immune system are being developed. While immunotherapy is treating some cancers, they haven't had much success in ovarian cancer. To understand why these immunotherapies aren't working we need to understand how the tumour interacts with the immune system. Natural killer (NK) cells are an important component of the immune system that identify and kill cancer cells. We don't yet understand how NK cells are interacting with ovarian tumours and how this impacts response to therapy. My PhD project aims to improve the effects of therapies by answering this question. We will use slides of ovarian cancer tissues that have been removed from patients to look for NK cells in and around the tumour. This is important because it will tell us whether NK cells in the tumour correspond with better or worse outcome for patients. It will be important knowledge that scientists can use when developing future immunotherapies or combining the ones we already have.

Scholarships and/or Awards:

  • Cancer Research Training Program (CRTP) Traineeship Award 2020
  • Killam Predoctoral Scholarship, Dalhousie University, 2020
  • Nova Scotia Graduate Scholarship Award (PhD; Honourary), Dalhousie University, 2020
  • President’s Award, Dalhousie University, 2020
  • Summer Studentship in Immunology, Dalhousie RIM, 2019
  • Dalhousie Medical Alumni Association Scholarship, DMAA, 2018
  • Canada Graduate Scholarship, Canadian Institutes of Health Research, 2017
  • Queen’s Graduate Award, 2017
  • Future Leader Studentship, Terry Fox Transdisciplinary Training Program, 2016
  • Dean’s Award, Queen’s University, 2016
  • Queen’s Graduate Award, 2016

Career Aspirations:

Ovarian cancer is a silent killer for which we need better therapy. My PhD project is focused on uncovering the power of an immune cell, natural killer cell, in ovarian cancer. My career goal is to use my experiences in an academic position that incorporates innovative translational research and visual science communication with advocacy for women’s health and open access science.


Dalhousie University


Nersesian S, Schwartz SL, Grantham SR, MacLean LK, Lee SN, Pugh-Toole M, Boudreau JE. NK cell infiltration is associated with improved overall survival in solid cancers: a systematic meta-review and meta-analysis. Trans Oncol, 2021 Jan.

Nersesian S, Vitkin N, Grantham S, Bourgaize S. Illustrating your research: design basics for junior clinicians and scientists. BMJ. July 2020.

Davis C, Tami P, Ramsay D, Melanson L, Nersesian S, R Ramjeesingh. Body image in older breast cancer survivors: a systematic review. Psycho-Oncology, February 2020.

Nersesian S, Shakfa N, Peterson N, Vidotto T, Afriyie-Asante A, Lightbody E, Koti M. Chemotherapy induced immunogenic cell death alters response to exogenous activation of STING pathway and PD-L1 immune checkpoint blockade in a syngeneic murine model of ovarian cancer. Pre-print published on BioRxiv. October 2019.

Koti M, Chenard S, Nersesian S, Vidotto T, Morales A, Siemens R. Investigating the STING pathway to explain mechanisms for BCG failures in non-muscle invasive bladder cancer: prognostic and therapeutic implications. Bladder Cancer, August 2019.

Nersesian S, Glazebrook H, Toulany J, Grantham S, Boudreau J. Naturally Killing the Silent Killer: NK Cell-Based Immunotherapy for Ovarian Cancer. Frontiers in Immunology, August 2019.

Vidotto T, Nersesian S, Graham C, Siemens R, Koti M. DNA damage repair gene mutation associated pre-treatment immune landscape in muscle invasive bladder cancer. Journal for Immunotherapy of Cancer, June 2019.

Vitkin N, Nersesian S, Siemens R, Koti M. The tumor immune contexture of prostate cancer. Frontiers in Immunology, March 2019.

Nersesian S, Williams R, Newsted D, Shah K, Young S, Evans A, Allingham J, Craig A. The macrolide toxin Mycalolide B disrupts actin-driven invasion and metastasis of HER2-positive cancers. Scientific Reports, November 2018.

Newsted D, Bannerjee S, Watt K, Nersesian S, Truesdell P, Sidhu S, Craig A. Blockade of TGF-β signaling with novel synthetic antibodies limits immune exclusion and improves chemotherapy response in metastatic ovarian cancer models. OncoImmunology, November 2018.


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