Goodbye Flat Biology & AI in Cancer Diagnostics 2021: A Participants’ View

October 2021 was a busy month for the EACR with two virtual conferences – Goodbye Flat Biology and AI in Cancer Diagnostics. Both brought exciting discussion on a variety of topics between researchers from around the world. You can read a full report on the EACR’s autumn/winter 2021 conferences here.

A number of EACR-Worldwide Cancer Research Meeting Bursaries were awarded for both of these conferences to assist cancer researchers in low or middle-income economy countries, who would not have been able to attend without financial support to cover the registration fee.

Each of the bursary winners was asked to provide a short report detailing their experience at the conference. You can read their reports below:

  1. Adel Zaid Ismail Mutahar, University of Mysore, Mysore, India
  2. Mohammad Johari Ibahim, Universiti Teknologi MARA, Selangor, Malaysia
  3. Sukanya Gayan, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, India
  4. Zaridatul Aini Ibrahim, Universiti Malaya, Malaysia
  5. Akhilanand Chaurasia, King George’s Medical University, India
  6. Esraa Aldujaily, Iraq
  7. Mladen Marinkovic, Institute of Radiology and Oncology of Serbia, Belgrade, Serbia

The eligibility criteria for Meeting Bursaries at EACR virtual conferences has now been extended to include both EACR members and non members. Take a look at upcoming conferences here: www.eacr.org/conferences

1Adel Zaid Ismail Mutahar

EACR conference attended with meeting bursary: Goodbye Flat Biology: Next  Generation Cancer Models
Job title: PhD student
Home institution: University of Mysore, Mysore, India
Research: In vitro 3D bioengineering culture systems provide promising tools for screening novel therapies and understanding drug penetration mechanisms in cancer because they are adapted to mimic in vivo systems and utilized for high throughput analysis. One of the main current challenges is to generate patient organoids containing cancer and stromal, fibroblast, or stem cells to faithfully recapitulate tumor microenvironment and move toward efficient personalized medicine. Our studies pay attention towards bioengineering in vitro 3D multicellular spheroids as microtissues and utilized for tumor angiogenesis and metastasis studies.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

Attending this conference boosted my knowledge and opened my mind to a slew of new ideas for improving my research goals. Listening to the concepts and methods used by world scientists and professionals has expanded my knowledge and opened up a new career path for me. Many scientists emphasised the ways for producing microtissues for tumour research and translational research. The in vitro tumour microenvironment and extracellular matrix formation, which includes fibronectin, collagen, and Matrigel, have been thoroughly explained and presented, with highly promising findings. I’d like to thank the EACR president and organising committee for providing me this meeting bursary, which has greatly aided me and opened my mind to new ideas in my PhD programme study.

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

Yes, I got many chances to ask my questions and I received answers to my questions from the world class experts. Attending such conferences really build up my knowledge as a student. All conference topics were closely related to my PhD research proposal and I gained a broad ideas and hypothesis to build up my research better.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

This conference was unlike any other for me because it was directly relevant to my research goals. Oral presentations of high-quality research data were given, and I was able to strengthen my research methods and obtain such fruitful outcomes as a result of this conference.

Did you gain any specific knowledge that has benefited your research? Tell us about it.

Yes, I gained a lot of methods to strengthen my research methods and subsequently obtaining such fruitful presented data. Making 3D spheroids in collagen supplemented with other growth factors e.g., fibronectin. Stabilizing tumor microtissues with fibroblasts was also impressing result. In vivo orthotopic injection of mice models and many more other 3-Dimentional methods encountered as great findings and opened my ideas for more cancer research technologies.

2Mohammad Johari Ibahim

EACR conference attended with meeting bursary: Goodbye Flat Biology: Next Generation Cancer Models
Job title: Research academician
Home institution: Universiti Teknologi MARA, Selangor, Malaysia

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

By joining this conference, it opened a lot of opportunities for me to collaborate with others from different countries and listen directly to my favourite speaker, Andrew Ewald for recent updates on cellular and molecular mechanisms of breast cancer metastasis. Being in Malaysia with limited researchers focusing on radio resistance of breast cancer cells, this virtual conference really motivated me to work harder.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

I’ve not joined many conferences before this, but this virtual conference allowed me to attend all the talks whether live lecture or through recording from my living room. The conference content was very specific to tumour models and I learned a lot of new things since these technologies in my country are very limited.

“It really inspired me to venture deeper into my research area by mimicking methods that have been used by another researcher”

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

It really inspired me to venture deeper into my research area by mimicking methods that have been used by another researcher. The talks Marianna Kruithof-de Julio and Martin Theiss gave were really relevant to my research niche and provided some input for my next research question.

Did you gain any specific knowledge that has benefited your research? Tell us about it.

I gained a lot of knowledge from this conference, but I want to focus on the talk by Jasmin Hunsrucker (Merck KGaA, Germany) entitled ‘3D Co-culture system representing the tumor microenvironment. I obtained a latest update on how to do the co-culture in 3D which I did for my current study.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention? Tell us about it here

I would like to thank the EACR and the organisers for rewarding me with this bursary for registration because it helped me a lot and is a highly significant award for me during the COVID-19 pandemic. As an ambassador for EACR, I have promoted all the events organised by EACR to my friends in Malaysia, so I hope they will be inspired with the advancement in research output in other countries.

3Sukanya Gayan

EACR conference attended with meeting bursary: Goodbye FlatBiology: Next Generation Cancer Models
Job title: PhD student
Home institution: Institute of Bioinformatics and Biotechnology, Savitribai Phule Pune University, Pune, India
Research: A tumour is a three-dimensional entity and in order to understand its behaviour we need a model that can mimic a tumour in true sense. My PhD research revolves around establishing multi-cellular spheroids (MTS) as a model for metastasis, which resembles a solid tumour in cellular organisation and behavior. We have observed that the MTS can be classified as dormant and aggressive depending on the cellular components and can be used as a successful model for metastasis (Sci Rep, 2017). As a tumour face multipronged stresses in its native environment, we have analysed that nutritional and hypoxic stress (low oxygen) alters the tumour physiology and behaviour. Stressed and rescued MTS exhibits unforeseen plasticity in phenotype and migration (In vitro model; in revision, 2021).

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

I am a PhD student and my research work is fully based on three-dimensional tumour structures and spheroids. Vast knowledge has been gained using two-dimensional platforms but we still lag behind in many aspects as 2D cell culture does not resemble the morphology and physiology of a tumour. Because of this, many drugs have failed to reach clinical trials. From the conference it can be summarised that three-dimensional platforms provide proper understanding of a tumour and helps in identification of potential targets for treatment. Different types of 3D models can explain the interaction of tumour and the different components of the tumour microenvironment which are involved in the metastasis. Tumours behave differently in different individuals so the 3D models have helped in precision medicine in the field of treatment.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

The most inspiring talk was from Valerie Weaver. I have never known whether I wanted to be in research or not. I have spent 3 years in research and then realised I cannot live without it. It gives me joy and I am incomplete without it. People used to make judgements regarding me wasting time and not making money, but I ignored it all thinking research is what I want to do in my life. After hearing Valerie’s talk, I was so deeply enlightened. She has struggled a lot and has shown the world her love for science. If you love science, you can get there and, in some way, contribute to society.

Is there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about? What was it?

The conference was a great success. Eminent scientists and researchers have presented their work, and this has inspired everyone. The work presented by everyone was great, but there were a few talks which are very clean and clear. Amongst them the talk by Matthias Lütolf – “Engineering next-generation tumoroids” was knowledge enhancing. Florijn Dekkers’ proffered paper presentation on “Behavioral-transcriptomic landscape of engineered T cells targeting human cancer organoids” was great. The mechanism that engineered T-cells target tumour cells was explained very well. I work with spheroids, so I enjoyed the talk by Jasmin Hunsrucker -“3D Co-culture system representing the tumor microenvironment”. At the end, Valerie Weaver’s talk was so inspiring and motivating.

4Zaridatul Aini Ibrahim

EACR conference attended with meeting bursary: GoodbyeFlat Biology: Next Generation Cancer Models
Job title: Senior lecturer/principal investigator
Home institution: Department of Pharmacology, Universiti Malaya, Malaysia
Research: My research interest is on groups of molecules secreted during stress, injury and inflammation called damage-associated molecular pattern molecules (DAMPs). These molecules have been implicated in various detrimental processes due to unresolved inflammation, leading to cancer. I study how DAMPs are expressed and what impact that they might have on colorectal cancer development and progression. I hope a better understanding of these areas could be grasped and more future studies will be conducted, paving the way for the discovery of potential pathways that can be targeted to combat cancer.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

The conference has a balanced mixture of speakers, ranging from Professors, mid-career to early-career researchers. I am still in in the infancy of my career in cancer research, and I feel that the conference has provided me with a lot of new knowledge and inspired me to do more work and expand my network in this area.

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

I love the dynamic interaction between the speakers and the attendees of the conference. I got to ask several questions to David and Andrew via the Q&A box. I also enjoyed the poster session via Gather. Gather is an awesome platform. Despite being online, I got to interact with several attendees who dropped by to see my poster and explained my work to them.

“I have attended several online conferences since the pandemic, but I think this is the most interactive conference so far”

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

I have attended several online conferences since the pandemic, but I think this is the most interactive conference so far. The energy from the speakers and the responses from attendees were just amazing. This in turn helps me to have the right mindset, be more focused, engage with the talks, actively listen and learn new information throughout the session so I got to make the most out of this conference.

Is there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about? What was it?

The work presented during the conference showing the different models that can be utilised to study cancer has inspired me to further explore and employ this technique in my research work. Organoids and precision cut tissues are relatively new to our group and it would be interesting if we could pioneer this work at my institution.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention? Tell us about it here

I would strongly encourage my postgraduate students to attend EACR conferences and apply for the bursary programme as we do not have financial support for this purpose. It would help them to see the “bigger picture” of the work that they are doing at the moment, and get out of the “tunnel vision trap”. Moreover, the EACR conferences offer a good networking experience. This is definitely a good platform to approach the principal investigators/lab members for any postgraduate students who are interested in a short training or lab attachment opportunity in the future.

5Akhilanand Chaurasia

EACR conference attended with meeting bursary: AI in Cancer Diagnostics
Job title: Associate Professor
Home institution: King George’s Medical University, India
Research: Nowadays Artificial Intelligence is an area of thrust in cancer research and diagnostics. Artificial Intelligence holds a great promise in automated diagnosis of cancer and is evolving day by day in the path of being a gold standard in cancer diagnostics due to its cost effectiveness, time saving, and high accuracy and precision. The developing countries are burdened heavily by cancer, due to underdeveloped infrastructure, high cost of diagnosis and treatment. Because of this, cancer patients are suffering a lot in these developing countries. Artificial Intelligence based cancer diagnostics are cost effective and it is more accessible to poor cancer patients. AI based diagnostics are helpful in timely early detection and intervention in cancer treatment and saving the precious human life.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

Since AI is evolving day by day, its integration in cancer diagnostics has opened up a new area of cancer research. The high precision and accuracy of AI based cancer diagnostics is slowly replacing the conventional diagnostics and will soon be the method of choice. I was very impressed with the overall presentation by renowned speakers and their in-depth knowledge in implementation of AI in cancer research.

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

In terms of networking, I was very happy to have found 2 potential collaborators working within AI in cancer research. I also enjoyed the opportunity to ask questions to the speakers.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

The core content of AI in Cancer Diagnostics was very robust and comprehensive. The speakers at conference had in-depth knowledge about integration of AI in Cancer Diagnostics with high levels of scientific content and information.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

As I am already working on integration of Artificial Intelligence in Oral Cancer, after attending this conference I developed a wider vision and ideas to be implemented in cancer research. I learnt many innovative AI programmes which can help lay the foundations for my future research.

Is there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about? What was it?

I wanted to share the innovative AI programmes and algorithms learnt during the conference with my colleagues and motivate them to implement them.

Did you gain any specific knowledge that has benefited your research? Tell us about it.

I have learnt many potential algorithm programmes which have high accuracy and precision in prediction and treatment outcomes in cancer.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention? Tell us about it here

As technology is evolving day by day, AI in Cancer Diagnostics should be held frequently in near future.

6Esraa Aldujaily

EACR conference attended with meeting bursary: AI in Cancer Diagnostics
Job title: Doctor
Home country: Iraq
Research: My research interest is to investigate the clinical significance of biomarkers as predictive or prognostic markers in cancer. I am focusing on the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning as tools to explore more about the association between clinicopathological parameters of cancer and biomarker expression in cancer.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

The conference was an excellent opportunity for me to get to know more about the applications of AI and machine learning in cancer diagnostics, therapeutics, and how such advanced tools could be applied in the analysis of digital pathology. I also learnt how such excellent technologies could improve cancer diagnostics and treatment. One of the outstanding talks in this area was by Martin Eklund.

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

It was just the photo of my supervisor John Le Quesne who was my supervisor during my Ph.D. in the UK, I even sent him a message to tell him how proud I am of him and for sure I hope to collaborate with him soon!

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

It was comprehensive about the subject of AI in cancer diagnostics and therapy

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

Two talks inspired me and am now planning for future collaboration with them, the talks by Dr. Martin Eklund and Dr. Yinyin Yuan.

Did you gain any specific knowledge that has benefited your research? Tell us about it.

Machine learning and AI is a very promising tool that applies to my research in the field of cancer especially when dealing with big clinicopathological data.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention? Tell us about it here

I would like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart to the EACR and Worldwide Cancer Research for giving me this opportunity to attend such an outstanding conference which opened my mind and my eyes to new and advanced tools to analyse cancer data and explore more. This will pave the way for future plans and research that could help researchers in my area where resources are not good enough for us as researchers. Thank you very much and God bless you all.

7Mladen Marinkovic

EACR conference attended with meeting bursary: AI in Cancer Diagnostics
Job title: MD, radiation oncologist, PhD student
Home country: Institute of Radiology and Oncology of Serbia, Belgrade, Serbia
Research: My current research is focused on profiling the response to preoperative chemoradiotherapy in locally advanced rectal cancer (LARC). As a part of my PhD research from June 2020 around 50 patients with LARC were included at the Institute for Oncology and Radiology of Serbia.  LARC was defined as T3-T4N0 or any T stage N+. Pretreatment evaluation included an abdominal and pelvic MRI scan and a computed tomography (CT) scan or X ray of the chest. All patients were treated with long-course chemoradiotherapy. Radiotherapy (RT) was delivered using VMAT-SIB technique (volumetric modulated arc therapy-simultaneous integrated boost). Patients were assessed for tumor response in the eighth week after CRT completion with pelvic MRI scan and rigid proctoscopy.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

I would like to highlight a couple of lecture: “AI in clinical workflow”, “Prediction models and artificial intelligence for improving prostate cancer diagnostics and treatment”, and “AI and Radiomics supporting clinical decisions in Cancer Diagnosis”

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

I’ve developed an interest in AI in cancer practice while collaborating on a project concerning the evaluation of different machine learning models in prediction of post-irradiation recurrence in prostate carcinoma patients. This conference helped me to expand my knowledge in this area and it was very useful for me.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

This conference allowed me to step into artificial intelligence in cancer diagnostic and improved my knowledge and skills in this area, which was practically not covered at all during my M.Sc. studies at the Faculty of Medicine in Belgrade. I would like to introduce artificial intelligence into my PhD research as a way to assess the response to CRT treatment.

Is there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about? What was it?

I spoke with my college about opportunities for research in this area. A diagnostics department at my Institute was personally interested in this field. I hope that in the future there will be more conferences focused on this topic. Personally, I would like to see something in the area of AI in cancer treatment.