Casey Broadbent is a PhD student at the University of Manchester, UK who received an EACR Travel Fellowship visit and work at a lab in the University of Basel, Switzerland in March 2023.

The EACR has joined forces with Worldwide Cancer Research to provide Travel Fellowships of up to €3,000 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 Fellowship awardees and their experiences here.

Casey Broadbent in the host lab

Name: Casey Broadbent
Job title: PhD student
Home institute: University of Manchester, UK
Host institute: University of Basel, Switzerland
Dates of visit: 06 – 08 March 2023
Research: Hormone-dependent breast cancer accounts for 75% of all breast cancers. It is treated with drugs that prevent the hormone estrogen eliciting its effects on cancer growth, and by drugs targeting the cell cycle. However, many patients develop resistance whereby a tumour no longer responds to treatment. One reason behind this is the survival of breast cancer stem cells (bCSCs), which are largely inactive but later reactivate to re-grow the tumour. They have elevated STAT3, a protein involved in promoting tumour growth. This project investigates if reducing the activity of STAT3 can reduce bCSC activity.

Why did you choose this host lab?

Through the European Network of Breast Development and Cancer (ENBDC), our lab has connections with many other European academic groups. I contacted Professor Bentires-Alj who is a member of the ENBDC committee, as the focus of his lab is understanding the cellular mechanisms that lead to drug-resistant metastases. One of the major research themes of this lab is personalised medicine involving the use of 3D organoid culture, and 3D culture using highly relevant clinical models is a key next step in my project. His group have many publications in high impact journals such as Nature, as well as many well recognised awards. Therefore, I was sure the standard of research and teaching was excellent.

Can you summarise the research you did and what you learned during your visit?

The focus of my visit was to gain knowledge in 3D organoid culture. Initially I learned basic culture techniques such as media additions to enable growth and knowing when organoids are ready to passage. Importantly, I was shown different methods of passaging and when I should carry out each, for example simple digestion of matrigel versus taking cells to single cell level.

Furthermore, as a PDX sample arrived during my time I got to observe its preparation for organoid culture. This was a lengthy procedure consisting of processing the tumour, preparing the cells, and separating mouse/human cells via FACS. I was also able to learn how the group organise their bank of organoids and how they were used for experiments. Organoids were characterised at early and late passages by imaging and immunohistochemical analysis of key markers for example ki67, ER/PR and HER2. Drug screening was frequently carried out in the lab and additionally I learned that organoids can be subject to genetic manipulation such as CRISPR knockout, lentiviral transduction etc.

Describe a typical day on your visit.

First thing on a morning I would meet with Maren and/or Adelin and would be straight into the lab or have an admin hour before starting. Sometimes we had large experiments to begin early. For example, we had PDX tissue to digest and sort for human cells via FACS which took all day. Some days consisted of basic organoid culture and passaging, which had lots of incubations so time for coffee! I also joined the weekly journal club in which some recent publications were presented, as well as the lab meeting in which everyone was able to update what they had been working on that week.

“This has been a great networking opportunity and has given me a taster of what it could be like living abroad long-term”

Did you take part in any interesting local or cultural activities?

Every morning I crossed the beautiful Mittlere Brücke bridge to get to the lab, the oldest bridge situated on the river Rhine. It was great to explore the old town and sit by the Rhine when the weather was nice. On a day off I went to the Kunstmuseum which had many displays of modern and classic art. My favourite part was seeing some paintings by Picasso!

What was a personal highlight of your trip?

I loved how friendly and welcoming the group were. I had many conversations about science and careers whilst also having a good laugh. I have even been invited back for workshops in the coming year. The group was very large and sociable, and most people were from different countries. It was great be a part of this diverse group and to hear about other people’s experiences living abroad, something that is of interest to me in the future.

How has this visit been beneficial to your research and/or your career?

This Travel Fellowship has allowed me to gain insight into a new and preferable technique over standard 2D cell culture, which will highly complement my work. I will be able to use the skills I have learned to finally utilise the patient-derived material we have stored and create a clinically relevant model. Regarding my career, I am always keen to experience new working environments, and I am considering a post-doc abroad. This has been a great networking opportunity and has given me a taster of what it could be like living abroad long-term.

Want to find out more?

If you are interested in applying for the Travel Fellowship scheme, please click here for more information: EACR Travel Fellowships.