Doctoral fellow – Experimental Surgery Lab – Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (UGent)
Principal Investigator: prof. Wim Ceelen (MD, PhD)
With yearly more than half a million deaths worldwide, colon cancer forms the second leading cause of global cancer-related mortality. This is mainly attributable to the advanced stages of this disease, as the cure rate drops from more than 90% in localized disease (stage I) to approximately 65% after involvement of locoregional lymph nodes (stage III). As a consequence, there is a prominent need for new curative treatment strategies. Unfortunately, there is currently not sufficient knowledge of the underlying molecular mechanisms to develop these. Indeed, despite the obvious importance of lymphatic spread, it has not yet been established how colon cancer lymph node metastasis progresses in space and time.
During my PhD, we will therefore try to develop a new treatment that targets colon cancer lymph node metastases by modulating the locoregional lymph node immune environment. For this, we will explore the immune contexture in mesenteric lymph nodes of colon cancer patients via flow cytometry, scRNA-seq and spatial transcriptomics. Based on (pre-)metastatic changes emerging from these analyses, we will select a target that we can exploit for modulating the lymph node immune environment. To allow integration into the current standard of care, we will develop an intraperitoneally nebulizable nanoparticle for delivery of an immune modulating cargo into the lymph nodes. In the end, we will study the anti-tumor potential of these nanoparticles in a spontaneous lymph node metastasizing colon cancer mouse model that we will establish in-house via endoscopy-guided microinjection.