Photo credit: Angela Zhou.
Photo credit: Angela Zhou.

The 28th annual Canadian Society for Immunology (CSI) conference took place this year from June 4th to June 7th at the luxurious Fairmont Hotel in Winnipeg, Manitoba. Since this was the first time CSI was held in the prairies, the local organizing committee from the University of Manitoba gave us an exceptionally warm reception. Much like past years, CSI-2015 proved to be both intellectually and socially engaging with excellent symposia, workshops, and posters, allowing trainees to mix and mingle with the best immunologists in the nation.


Dr. Michel Nussenzweig (Rockefeller University) opened the meeting with a fascinating keynote address on developing broadly-neutralizing antibodies against HIV. Dr. Nussenzweig’s lab has shown that anti-HIV B cells undergo multiple rounds of somatic hypermutation and selection in the germinal centre, leading to mutations that occur in both the complementarity-determining regions (CDR) and framework regions of the B cell receptor. Therefore, achieving successful anti-HIV neutralizing antibodies may require multiple antigens to be incorporated into future vaccination strategies. Dr. Nussenzweig also showed us that combination antibody therapy is effective in reducing viremia. He is currently working on clinical trials with the Gates Foundation.


The very first symposium of the conference had one simple take-home message: context is everything. Work presented by Drs. Lisa Osborne (University of British Columbia) and Kenneth Cadwell (New York University Langone Medical Centre) introduced us to the concept of a “multibiome”, where cross-kingdom interactions must be taken into account when assessing immune responses to infection. Dr. Osborne’s lab found that helminth infection changes the microbial commensal communities in the gut, resulting in impaired clearance of murine norovirus infection, whereas Dr. Cadwell showed that helminth infections reverse intestinal damage that normally occurs in NOD2-/- mice by inhibiting growth of specific commensal bacteria.

Of course, co-infection is not the only factor affecting the microbiome. Dr. Jayne Danska (Hospital for Sick Children and University of Toronto) presented the effects of sex on the microbiome and autoimmune diseases by showing that the sex bias of type I diabetes mellitus (T1D) towards females can be transferred to males through fecal gavage transplants and is dependent on androgen receptor activity.

Dr. Max Nieuwdorp (University of Amsterdam) continued on the topic of diabetes by introducing fecal transplants as a novel form of treatment for patients; identifying lean donors may help treat individuals with metabolic syndrome by providing beneficial (probiotic) microbes to improve insulin sensitivity.

With all the attention focused on the gut, Dr. Michael Surette (McMaster University) reminded us that the respiratory airways also contain a microbiome — one that is more diverse than that of the intestines! His lab has identified a “pathobiome” of resident, commensal microorganisms that can potentially cause respiratory disease.

In sum, our relationship with resident microorganisms is incredibly complex. The effects of genetics and the environment on the microbiome play an important role in immune regulation and disease manifestation.


Saturday’s symposium explored the complex classification, function, and regulation of innate lymphoid cells (ILCs). Dr. Albert Bendelac (University of Chicago) presented a new subset of ILC precursors that was characterized by transient expression of the transcription factor PLZF.

Dr. Marco Colonna (Washington University School of Medicine) highlighted the role of tissue microenvironment in the regulation of ILC differentiation and gene transcription, specifically noting TGFβ and Eomesodermin in the reciprocal control of salivary gland-resident populations. Dr. Jenny Mjosberg (Karolinska Institute) dissected ILC subsets in human tonsils and identified extensive heterogeneity in the transcriptional signatures within these populations.

The interaction of ILCs with T cells was explored by Dr. Greg Sonnenberg (University of Pennsylvania), whose work on MHC class II+ ILC3 subsets has shown that the lack of ILC and T cell interactions results in a microbiota-dependent worsening of disease prognosis in murine colitis.

ILCs play a prominent role in airway immunity as well. Dr. Fumio Takei (University of British Columbia) spoke about the role of ILC2s in promoting allergic lung inflammation and Th2 responses, as well as a memory-like innate population that persists for months after initial allergen contact.

ILC2s are also important for inducing local Th2 responses in the airways following exposure to house dust mite and chronic salmonella infection, as discussed by Dr. Kelly McNagny (University of British Columbia).

Overall, it is becoming clear that ILCs play an increasingly important role in immunity.


The final symposium of CSI-2015 focused on potential cancer immunotherapeutics going to clinical trial. Dr. Donna Wall (University of Manitoba and CancerCare Manitoba) talked about the potential of bone marrow transplantation, while Dr. Jacques Galipeau (Emory University) drew attention to a common problem with mesenchymal stem cell (MSC) transplantation, in which improper thawing of cryopreserved MSCs may impair engraftment after infusion.

Dr. Stephan Grupp (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) presented his groundbreaking work on engineered T cell chimeric antigen receptors in adoptive transfer treatment of acute lymphoblastic leukemia. Dr. Michel L. Tremblay (McGill University) introduced a dendritic cell vaccination-based immunotherapy featuring protein tyrosine phosphatase inhibitors, which is now in clinical trials. Dr. Linh Nguyen (Princess Margaret Cancer Centre) presented a Phase II tumour infiltrating lymphocyte (TIL) trial, which has shown promise in decreasing tumour volume, with TIL cultures exhibiting a functional cytotoxic CD8 T cell response. Finally, Nicholas AJ Dawson (a PhD student from University of British Columbia) shared his work on developing a new mass cytometry-based assay to measure up to 40 parameters simultaneously in PBMCs.

There is still much work remaining in translating immunotherapeutics to the clinic. However, this session showcased that cutting-edge research is being conducted across Canada.


The CSI conferences have always focused strongly on trainee skill development, particularly oral presentations. As student members of the CSI, this is something we appreciate and is what makes these conferences so special. We would like to highlight some of the features that made CSI-2015 memorable.


A new addition to this year’s CSI was that each poster presenter had to give a one-minute talk, or “elevator pitch,” to pique the interest of meeting attendees. This session was a great opportunity for trainees to get their presentation skills up to snuff and to practice giving a succinct summary of their work. This kind of skill is necessary for any job that we might take on in the future, so it was a welcome challenge.

Another new session to the meeting was the Professional Development Workshop led by Dr. Nana Lee, the co-ordinator of Graduate Professional Development at the University of Toronto’s Departments of Immunology and Biochemistry. At her session, Dr. Lee highlighted skills that are gleaned from a PhD outside of benchwork. She emphasized the importance of networking, showed the DOs and DON’Ts of LinkedIn, and how to properly sign off on an e-mail.There was also a panel discussion with participants from various career backgrounds, and ample opportunity to speak with the panel guests so that everyone involved was able to get what they needed out of the discussion. We hope that the success of these additions ensures their continued presence in future meetings, allowing more trainees to be better prepared for life after graduate school.


The smaller size of the CSI annual meeting allows for a community of scientists and trainees to really connect. Sharing meals together enables much of this: it is very easy to sit down at a table and strike up a conversation with anyone (and Canadians are just so gosh darn nice!). The opening reception, poster sessions, and evenings out are also great chances for us to flex our networking muscles. There is usually a large gathering of students and scientists on the final evening, and this year was no exception. This was a great final opportunity to connect with immunologists from across the country, all of whom share the same passion.


The CSI banquet was held at a stunning riverside location just outside of Winnipeg. We were able to enjoy a nice cocktail session on a balcony in the open air, followed by a fantastic dinner where the CSI winners were given their awards. Dr. Mani Larijani received the CSI New Investigator Award; Dr. Dana Philpott received the CSI Investigator award. This year’s recipient of the Cinader award and lectureship was Dr. Eleanor Fish. In her award lecture at the banquet, Dr. Fish touched on different aspects of her work outside of the lab, including her time spent teaching and her involvement with several clinical trials in Africa.

In addition to the CSI awards, a number of travel awards and poster awards were given to trainee members of the CSI. These awards make it possible for students, postdoctoral fellows, and new investigators to attend the meeting, and recognize the hard work of top-notch poster presenters.


Angela (CSI Newbie)

As a first time CSI meeting attendee, I appreciated how student-friendly this conference was. CSI-2015 fostered an environment that encouraged interaction and mentorship between trainees and investigators. It felt very much like a community. Furthermore, the focus was not only on producing better science, but also on developing well-rounded scientists and communicators. I had a great time and look forward to attending the next one!

Leesa (CSI Veteran)

This CSI meeting was my last one as a student and it definitely was one to remember. As a Canadian immunologist-in-training, I highly recommend attending the CSI meeting. It is a great opportunity to keep in touch with colleagues and to observe the scientific landscape of immunology research across the country. I hope that these meetings continue to inspire the next generation of immunologists in Canada.




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