EACR Travel Fellowships are co-sponsored by Worldwide Cancer Research and provide funds up to €3,000 to early-career cancer researchers. For more information on how to apply for Travel Fellowships, you can visit the EACR website.
Home institute and country: Biodonostia Research Institute, Gipuzkoa, Spain
Host institute and country: ICR London, UK
Dates of visit: 01 March 2018 – 06 June 2018
I am focused on dissecting the interactions between tumours and the surrounding microenvironment to understand how both compartments communicate with each other to promote breast cancer progression. This knowledge will allow us to develop targeted therapies against these specific interactions and hopefully improve patients lives.
How did you hear about EACR Travel Fellowships / why did you decide to apply?
I was told by a colleague that the EACR has Travel Fellowships to offer. I have decided to apply because without financial help I could not have done this collaborative project abroad.
Why did you choose the host lab?
I came across their work at a conference in Greece and I became quite interested in their lab. I thought that their skills and knowledge would help to move my project forward. Besides this, I really liked their approach to science, the project they had running in the lab and their willingness to collaborate.
Can you summarise the research you did or what you learned on your visit?
The host lab specialises in cancer associated fibroblasts (CAFS) and their interactions with tumour cells. This has allowed me to develop great background knowledge in this field, which is beneficial because I am interested in studying the interactions between tumours and the microenvironment. During the visit, I learnt different technical skills used in this field to study several aspects of CAFS biology, such as 3D co-cultures with cancer cells and contractility assays to measure fibroblasts activation. I was able to master these techniques and apply them to my line of research. Apart from this, I have also learnt how to sort and analyse FACS in order to isolate each cell compartment of the tumour and study each one individually. Overall, it was a quite successful 3 months with lots of results and new ideas to explore.
Describe a ‘typical day’ on your visit.
I would come to the lab in the morning, have a look at my cells in culture to make sure everything was ready for the experiments. I would set up all materials to perform the experiments programmed for the day and sometimes consult with people in the lab to make sure I had everything I needed. I would perform the technique during the day, which could be a simple RNA extraction, qPCR, tissue culture etc, or a new/more complicated technique like FACS sorting. In that case, someone from the lab would supervise me to make sure that everything was going smoothly.
What were you able to do that you could not have achieved in your home lab?
I managed to do FACS sorting of several models of breast tumours that I could not have done in my home lab because we lack the facilities and the specialised staff.
Did you take part in any interesting local/cultural activities?
I visited every possible museum London that has to offer, sometimes more than once! I went to two concerts in the O2 Arena with some friends and I went on a day trip to Cambridge to visit the colleges and went punting.
What was a personal highlight of your trip?
I think the opportunity to make new friends and connect with people from different backgrounds was definitely what I appreciated the most in this experience. The host institution is much bigger in terms of scientific staff and facilities and I particularly enjoyed the friendly atmosphere amongst everyone.
Did you have a personal mentor or anyone who particularly helped you?
Everyone in the lab helped at some point in many ways. Some people helped me with the techniques and others by giving me advice on what to do. In particular, I worked more closely with the lab manager, Marjan Iravani, and with a PhD student, Liam Jerkins who helped me a lot with setting up the FACS experiment and analysing it. They are both kind and very bright people.
How has the trip inspired you in your research?
It was the first time I was doing such an ambitious experiment in such limited time. I was lucky that it worked first time and I was able to get results. This has helped me to build my self-confidence and I am now not reluctant to try new things.
Have you brought back any specific knowledge that has benefited your home lab?
Yes, contractility assays to check fibroblasts activation and FACS analysis to study different cell populations within the tumour.
Does your lab plan to do any future collaboration with the host lab?
Yes, the results I have obtained in the host institution are relevant for our work back home and we plan to do a joint publication.
How has this visit been beneficial to your research and your career?
This visit allowed me to gain solid background knowledge in tumour microenvironments, to develop skills that will help me in my future research and to build a network of collaborations that certainly are beneficial for my future career.