On 4-6 February 2019, the EACR held its first conference on Tracking Cancer in the famous CosmaCaixa science museum in Barcelona.

100% of the participants were satisfied were satisfied with the quality of Tracking Cancer 2019’s scientific content, whilst 99% said they would recommend the conference to others.

Want to find out more about Tracking Cancer 2019? You can read our Conference Review here.

For Tracking Cancer 2019, we gave away 5 Meeting Bursaries, in collaboration with Worldwide Cancer Research, to our members, in order to help them attend. Here are their reports on the conference.


1Sandra Isabel Pinto Nunes, PhD Student

Home institution and country: Cancer Biology & Epigenetics Group, Portuguese Oncology Institute of Porto, Portugal

Research: My current research focusses on finding new minimally invasive biomarkers for cancer detection and prognosis. Specifically, with my PhD project I aim to find epigenetic biomarkers that can predict immunotherapy response in advanced bladder cancer patients using liquid biopsies (plasma and urine). The ultimate goal is improving patients’ selection for immunotherapy.


Tracking Cancer 2019 is one of the best meetings that I have attended

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

All the speakers delivered excellent talks, but for me there were two highlights of Tracking Cancer 2019. One being Professor Joan Seoane’s talk about LIF mechanisms in tumour progression and as a possible target for cancer therapy. The other by Professor Nickolas Papadopoulos, who described a multi-analyte blood test for the simultaneous detection of several different cancers.

Were there any social/networking highlights you want to tell us about?

This meeting was very useful to see the latest results in the area and for establishing collaborations. Remarkably, there is the possibility of a future collaboration with a Belgian group that works with liquid biopsies and associating the presence of specific metabolites with cancer detection and prognosis. As they also intend to establish a PanCancer panel for the detection of the major cancers, associating my results with theirs would be very exciting.

Sandra NunesHow was this conference different from others you have attended?

This meeting was very well organized and the talks touched different points from several areas of cancer research, without losing the main themes. It is very inspirational to see how liquid biopsies can represent the future of cancer detection, treatment selection and prognosis.

When you got home, is there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about? 

Professor Caroline Dive’s keynote speech! It was very enriching to hear about such an interesting project regarding a new method for lung cancer screening. The idea of using vans with scanners that perform imaging screening on the spot in areas with high-risk suspects of developing cancer whilst also collecting blood from these suspects is so brilliant! I hope to hear results about it in the future.

Have you brought back any specific knowledge that has benefited your research?

I undeniably brought back some ideas that I can explore in my PhD project. For instance, during Alberto Bardelli’s talk, I learned that mismatch repair (MMR) deficient cancer cells tend to respond to immunotherapy and that the lack of β-microglobulin could also be a good biomarker to tell us if the patient will respond to immunotherapy. Johanna Joyce’s talk showed that the presence of tumour-associated macrophages is associated with worst prognosis in bladder cancer. However, they can be re-educated to become anti-tumour cells. These will certainly help me achieve my goals with my PhD work.

Sandra Nunes
Sandra visiting La Sagrada Familia
Did you take part in any interesting local/cultural activities in your free time outside of the conference?

Barcelona is an incredible city. I visited several monuments, including Sagrada Familia and Casa Batló. I loved Gaudi’s architecture and I will definitely come back when Sagrada Familia is complete. In addition, I briefly visited the CosmoCaixa museum. I also ate paella for the first time and the famous Spanish tapas. The food is amazing in Spain!

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Tracking Cancer 2019 is one of the best meetings that I have attended and I learned a lot! I want to thank the EACR for the awarding me with a Meeting Bursary and for allowing me to present my work at this prestigious conference

2Lucy Swithenbank, PhD Student

Home institution and country: Swansea University Medical School, Swansea, UK

Research: My project is based on improving techniques to measure patient response to chemotherapy. We hope to develop a blood based marker which can identify which patients are responding to treatment and which patients are not, at a much earlier stage than current techniques offer.

I realised we can really have a great impact on many people’s lives through our work


What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

I am coming to the end of my PhD and I am figuring out what to do next in my career. The highlight of this meeting was a platform talk from one of the keynote speakers. The presentation was delivered with such enthusiasm, the speaker’s passion and vision was evident. I found the project exciting, stimulating and relevant. In addition, I realised we can really have a great impact on many people’s lives through our work and hopefully help change some of the poor statistics in the cancer treatment field. I sat there and in my notes, I simply wrote ‘work in her team’!

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

The amount of new and unpublished data presented amazed me. It really created a community feel and highlighted the teamwork aspect of what we do.

Did you take part in any interesting local/cultural activities in your free time outside of the conference?

I had time to visit the Sagrada Familia and Park Guell, and bask in the beautiful city of Barcelona. I also spent a bit of free time roaming around the CosmoCaixa science museum, which played host to Tracking Cancer 2019, and was such a great setting.

Lucy Swithenbank
Lucy’s photo of the CosmoCaixa science museum
How has the conference inspired you in your research?

In the poster session, I received some great feedback on my work, and a few ideas to help optimise other sections of my work that I have been struggling with in recent months. When I return to the lab, I am looking forward to trying them!

3Hisham Bahmad, Postdoctoral Research Fellow

Home institution and country: American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon

Research: Prostate cancer (PCa) is the second most frequent cause of cancer-related death in men worldwide. Malignant progression of PCa is marked by transition of epithelial cells (expressing cytokeratin 8, CK8) to mesenchymal cells (expressing vimentin, Vim): epithelial-to-mesenchymal transition (EMT). Therefore, we assessed the co-expression of CK8/Vim in a cohort of patients with locally advanced PCa as a predictor of disease progression. We came up with a new EMT score that can serve as a novel prognostic system for predicting PSA failure irrespective of the conventional clinicopathological prognostic parameters currently used.


What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

During Tracking Cancer 2019, I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Charles Sawyers, one of the most influential cancer scientists worldwide. I shared part of my research work on Prostate cancer organoids with him. He gave me great advice on how to improve culturing and validation methods of these organoids. Similarly, I also had the opportunity to attend Dr. Swanton’s talk who, for me, is the godfather of tumor heterogeneity.

Were there any social/networking highlights you want to tell us about?

I had the opportunity to meet with Dr. Khaled Abduljabbar, a postdoctoral fellow and member of the Institute of Cancer Research TRACERx research project. We had a long talk on cancer research and on the importance of Artificial Intelligence in this context. In addition, we had dinner together where we made plans to collaborate in the future. I also met with some PhD students and postdoctoral research fellows from Italy, Morocco, and Egypt, and we shared our research together.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

For me, there were two reasons why Tracking Cancer 2019 was important. First, it focussed on a specific topic, that of tracking cancer. Second, it featured a multidisciplinary group of highly influential international speakers and poster sessions. Thanks to this, it brought together leading figures from around the world to present the latest tools, techniques and discoveries in the field of cancer detection and monitoring. It created an environment to discuss what we know about novel biomarkers in cancers and how we can translate that clinically.

Hisham Bahmad
Hisham (second from right) with his colleagues
Did you take part in any interesting local/cultural activities in your free time outside of the conference?

During my free time, I visited my friend, Karine Tadevosyan’s lab. She is a research assistant working on iPSCs. I also visited La Sagrada Familia and Plaza España. Most importantly, I had the opportunity to watch the El Clasico Real Madrid vs. Barcelona in the Copa del Rey Semi Final, live at the Camp Nou Stadium. To watch a game of this magnitude is one of my dreams and it was an amazing experience.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

Throughout the meeting, I attended several talks that were directly applicable to my research interests. I also had the opportunity to meet with a variety of cancer scientists and colleagues from around the world. In conclusion, the meeting provided valuable networking opportunities and gave me access to the latest advances and updates, which could be applied to my research.

When you got home, is there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about?

After attending Tracking Cancer 2019, I shared some of the topics presented such as the TRACERx project and the importance of tumor heterogeneity in studying cancer.

Have you brought back any specific knowledge that has benefited your research?

I highlighted the importance of the new technology of circulating tumor cells (CTCs) and DNA in cancer research to my lab colleagues. We discussed the possibility of starting new projects on capturing and culturing those cells in vitro via 3D cultures.

4Jole Fonderico, PhD Student

Home institution and country: University of Chieti, Pescara, Italy

Research: My project aims to study the role of GPR55 and C5aR in osteoclastogenesis, providing a rationale to target them in order to prevent bone metastasis development. Indeed, the bone resorption by osteoclasts induces the release of proliferative factors from bone matrix that promotes the metastatic progression. Thus, the blockage of metastatic development can be achieved by inhibiting osteoclast activity. Reports in literature demonstrated that GPR55 and C5aR, with their ligands, play a role in both tumourigenesis and osteoclastogenesis. However, their mechanism of action is still unknown. This investigation will shed a new light on these two still enigmatic biological processes.


What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

All of the talks were extremely interesting. In my opinion, the possibility to attend this Tracking Cancer 2019 and to have the chance to compare different ways of researching with scientists from all over the world was my personal highlight.

Jole Fonderico
Jole’s Meeting Bursary Award
How was this conference different from others you have attended?

In no other conference that I have attended have there been ‘Panel Discussions’. In these sessions, we had the possibility to discuss about the themes of the day presented by the Speakers, in order to clarify different aspects not clear during the talks. I think that this was a great opportunity for all the participants to enrich their personal knowledge about the topics presented.

Did you take part in any interesting local/cultural activities in your free time outside of the conference?

I had the opportunity to visit the amazing venue in which the Conference took place, the science museum CosmoCaixa. On the last day, after the conference’s conclusion, I visited two famous attractions: Park Guell and the Sagrada Família. It was my first time visiting Barcelona and I enjoyed my experience in this wonderful city.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

I was inspired in many ways: networking, asking the keynote speakers for advice, creating connections with researchers of similar interests. I had the opportunity to improve and grow both in my approach to my research, and in the broader manner of seeing things, and with the beauty of living in international diversity.

5Dina Polyak, Postdoctoral Scholar

Home institution and country: Stanford University, California, USA

Research: Non-small cell lung cancer (NSCLC) brain metastases may form solid brain metastases or diffuse disease on the surface of the brain and nerves. Diffused NSCLC brain metastases are collectively and rapidly fatal. I capture circulating tumor cells in the biofluids of the brain together with novel technics to extract DNA and RNA. This will allow us to determine the genes and interactions responsible for lung brain metastases progression in the brain. We will then target these genes to inhibit active mechanisms support metastatic progression and improve therapies for this devastating disease.


Were there any social/networking highlights you want to tell us about?

One of the best aspects of the EACR conference series is the high scientific quality on one side and small size on the other. Tracking Cancer 2019’s atmosphere was intimate and friendly. As a result, this made it a great ground for impromptu conversations. I had the opportunity to meet many interesting people from a diverse range of backgrounds. People were keen to share their professional and personal experiences about their scientific journey.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

In many cases, investigators present published or previously presented results. At the Tracking Cancer meeting, all of the participants presented unpublished results. In conclusion, it was worth attending the meeting because the results and presentations will not be available to the wider scientific community for a while.

Did you take part in any interesting local/cultural activities in your free time outside of the conference?

Barcelona is a beautiful city and I discovered a new and very beautiful neighbourhood, despite it being my third visit. The CosmoCaixa Science Museum, is a modern glass building surrounded by gorgeous traditional buildings. Every morning, as I made my way to the conference, I would pass a bustling, busy day care and elementary school. For a moment, I felt like a Barcelonan, part of the city and its daily life, and it was great.


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