Beatriz Salvador Barbero is a Postdoctoral Researcher at Cardiff University in the UK who received an EACR Travel Fellowship to visit and work at IMIBIC in Spain during November 2023.
The EACR is supported by Worldwide Cancer Research to provide Travel Fellowships of up to €3,500 to enable early-career cancer researchers to gain new skills through a short-term visit to a lab or research group in another country.
You can read about other Travel Fellows and their experiences here.
Name: Beatriz Salvador Barbero
Job title: Postdoctoral Researcher
Home institute: Cardiff University, UK
Host institute: IMIBIC, Spain
Dates of visit: 04 November – 21 November 2023
Research: Pancreatic cancer is a very aggressive disease with very poor prognosis mainly due to the late diagnosis of the disease. Understanding pancreatic cancer initiation is crucial to develop new early detection tools. My project aims to identify the cells that initiate pancreatic cancer, characterise, and track them along the steps prior to cancer. Using mouse models that recapitulate pancreatic cancer initiation in high-risk patients (pancreas inflammation), I generated data that characterises each cell in the pancreas along different stages of disease initiation. I visited Professor Justo Castaño’s lab to analyse these data and identify the pancreatic cancer initiating cells.
Why did you decide to apply for an EACR Travel Fellowship, and how did you choose the host lab?
I didn’t choose Professor Justo Castaño’s lab, he chose me. When I was applying for my Pancreatic Cancer UK Fellowship, I needed a collaborator that could help me to analyse single-cell RNA sequencing (scRNAseq) data. I used the EACR’s Find a Collaboration tool and posted my project to find a collaborator. Professor Justo Castaño contacted me and offered his team expertise to collaborate in my project. Later I suggested I could visit his lab to learn and analyse the data.
Can you summarise the research you did and what you learned on your visit?
After obtaining the raw data of my scRNAseq experiment, I visited Professor Justo Castaño’s lab. Working closely with his bioinformatician and PhD student Daniel Ruiz I learnt the basics for the analysis of scRNAseq (skills that will be really useful for my career) and we analysed the data. Together we identified several clusters, progress into the analysis of subclusters of interest, and identified the population of cells that are more likely to initiate pancreatic cancer. Currently, we continue working on the data to characterise these cells at the different timepoints and identify markers for this population.
What were you able to do that you could not have achieved in your home lab?
scRNAseq generates huge amount of data that can be very informative but are difficult to handle for someone without informatics background. My home lab doesn’t contain bioinformaticians. Thanks to my visit to Professor Justo Castaño’s lab I was working elbow to elbow with a bioinformatician to analyse my data and learnt the basics for scRNAseq analysis.
Did you take part in any interesting local activities?
I made the most of my visit to Córdoba! During the two weekends I spent there I did three tours around the city, visited the fantastic Mosque-Cathedral, and travelled to visit the Medina Azahara remains. Also, I attended a workshop about Fandango (a type of Flamenco), and together with Professor Justo Castaño’s team enjoyed the amazing Cordobian gastronomy.
Did you have a personal mentor or anyone who particularly helped you?
I worked in close contact with Daniel Ruiz, bioinformatician and PhD student at Professor Justo Castaño’s lab. Thanks to Daniel’s bioinformatics skills and my knowledge of the biology of pancreatic cancer initiation, we identified the cancer initiating cells at different stages of pancreatic cancer initiation. I am still working closely with Daniel to continue with the characterisation and marker identification for these cells. Also, Daniel will visit Dr Catherine Hogan’s lab (my host lab) at Cardiff University by the end of 2024 to complete some experiments for his PhD project.
Does your lab plan to do any future collaboration with the host lab?
Professor Justo Castaño and I agreed that we will use the data obtained in my scRNAseq experiment to analyse the spliceosome machinery (Professor Justo Castaño’s lab is expert in splicing in pancreatic cancer and neuroendocrine cancer) at the different stages of pancreatic cancer initiation. This is the project of the PhD student Daniel Ruiz (who analysed with me the scRNAseq data) and he will visit Dr Catherine Hogan’s lab (my host lab) by the end of 2024 to do some experiments using my samples.
How has this visit been beneficial to your research and career?
Learning how to analyse scRNAseq data is a very valuable skill that will be really useful for my career. During my visit to Professor Justo Castaño’s lab, I also consolidated my collaboration with the group: we initiated a new project to use my scRNAseq data to evaluate the spliceosome machinery (Professor Justo Castaño’s lab is expert in splicing in pancreatic cancer and neuroendocrine cancer) during pancreatic cancer initiation, which will conform Daniel Ruiz PhD project; and we agreed to collaborate for a new grant application (PCUK Research Innovation Fund).
If you are interested in applying for the Travel Fellowship scheme, please click here for more information: EACR Travel Fellowships.