Surgery can prevent the immune system from attacking cancers

June 29, 2016

Surgery is one of the main treatments for cancer, but the disease often comes back or spreads after the operation. A study led by Dr. Rebecca Auer suggests that this may be because major surgery suppresses the immune system, particularly the cancer-killing white blood cells called CD8+ T-cells. The team found that these cells were unable to attack tumours immediately after surgery. When mice were immunized with an anti-cancer vaccine, the CD8+ T-cells attacked their cancer and 100 percent of the mice were cured. However, when similarly immunized mice underwent a major abdominal surgery, they all developed flank tumours and died. The team also found that giving mice with cancer the anti-cancer immune agent IFNα before surgery significantly extended their survival afterwards, potentially restoring their lost immunity. The results were published in the journal PLOS ONE.

Co-authors: Abhirami A. Ananth, Lee-Hwa Tai1, Casey Lansdell, Almohanad A. Alkayyal, Katherine E. Baxter, Leonard Angka, Jiqing Zhang, Christiano Tanese de Souza, Kyle B. Stephenson, Kelley Parato, Jonathan L. Bramson, John C. Bell, Brian D. Lichty, Rebecca C. Auer

Funders: Terry Fox Research Institute, New Investigator Award; Canadian Institutes of Health Research Fellowship; Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute, Innovation and Innovation to Impact Grant, Cancer Research Society

The Ottawa Hospital: Inspired by research. Driven by compassion

The Ottawa Hospital is one of Canada’s largest learning and research hospitals with over 1,100 beds, approximately 12,000 staff and an annual budget of over $1.2 billion. Our focus on research and learning helps us develop new and innovative ways to treat patients and improve care. As a multi-campus hospital, affiliated with the University of Ottawa, we deliver specialized care to the Eastern Ontario region, but our techniques and research discoveries are adopted around the world. We engage the community at all levels to support our vision for better patient care.

University of Ottawa

The University of Ottawa is home to over 50,000 students, faculty and staff, who live, work and study in both French and English. Our campus is a crossroads of cultures and ideas, where bold minds come together to inspire game-changing ideas. We are one of Canada’s top 10 research universities—our professors and researchers explore new approaches to today’s challenges. One of a handful of Canadian universities ranked among the top 200 in the world, we attract exceptional thinkers and welcome diverse perspectives from across the globe.

For further information, please contact

Amelia Buchanan
Senior Communication Specialist
Ottawa Hospital Research Institute
Office: 613-798-5555 x 73687
Cell: 613-297-8315