Georgia Lattanzi is an EACR Travel Fellowship recipient from Milan, Italy who visited the Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale (EOC), BIOS+ Institute, Switzerland between July and October 2022.

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.

Georgia Lattanzi

Name: Georgia Lattanzi
Job title: PhD Student
Home institute: European Institute of Oncology (IEO), University of Milan, Italy
Host institute: Ente Cantonale Ospedaliero, BIOS+ Institute, Switzerland
Dates of visit: 19 September – 16 December 2022
Other funding organisation: AIRC Short-Term Fellowship
Since high school I have always been fascinated by the internal dynamic equilibrium of every human being, namely the homeostasis. However, in conditions such as cancer something goes wrong, the homeostasis is not kept anymore and the disease arise. With these interests I started a PhD project in System Medicine to investigate the formation of colorectal cancer and the cross-talk between three fundamental systems: the intestinal system (specifically, the epithelial cells that transform and give rise to cancer); the immune system (which represents your defences against pathogens or cancer, with a focus on invariant Natural Killer T cells (iNKT)), and the gut microbiota (which comprises all the intestinal bacteria living within the human being that can affect the immune system and specifically iNKT).

Why did you decide to apply for an EACR Travel Fellowship?

I have been an EACR member since the beginning of my PhD (2018) and have already participated in many of the great conferences they organise. I have always thought the EACR is supportive of young researchers, and when I saw the offering of Travel Fellowships, I applied hoping for a positive answer. I cannot explain the excitement I felt when I was awarded the funding!

Why did you choose this host lab?

During my PhD studies, I have decided to spend a period of time abroad, wanting to expand my scientific knowledge, vision and network. My objective was to acquire new skills in the field of colorectal cancer and to learn cutting-edge techniques in animal models, thus I contacted Prof. Dr.ssa med. Giandomenica Iezzi at the Ente Ospedaliero Cantonale (EOC), BIOS+ Institute in Switzerland, who had recently published a paper showing that gut microbiota influences trafficking of immune cells in colorectal cancer. She used a novel animal model of colorectal cancer, based on an orthotopic implantation of tumour cells. This technique requires unique expertise in the field of animal microsurgery and represents a novel model to study the interaction between colorectal cancer, immune system and the gut microbiota which are my deep interests. Prof. Dr.ssa med. Iezzi was enthusiastic about my proposal to join her laboratory for a short period to learn this surgical technique and she strongly encouraged me to apply for funding.

Georgia in the host lab

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

In the research group of Prof. Dr.ssa med. Iezzi I had the opportunity to learn and apply a novel animal model of colorectal cancer. The procedure consists of intracecal implantation of tumoural cells and requires unique expertise in animal handling and microsurgery. In this animal model, colorectal cancer cells are allowed to grow in a more physiological environment, in the presence of the gut microbiota and in an immune competent host. Using this model, I could test: I) How the microbiota influenced the recruitment of iNKT cells in the tumor and II) whether it phenotypically shaped them. Additionally, I treated animals with an iNKT ligand and tested its efficacy in iNKT cells activation and tumour growth. I observed that the gut microbiota induces a pro-tumorigenic phenotype on tumour infiltrating iNKT cells, however treatment with the iNKT reactive ligand could restore their cytotoxic potential and improved mice survival.

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

The BIOS+ Institute is a very special place. It joins the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), the Institute for Oncology Research (IOR) and the Ente Cantonale Ospedaliero (EOC) of Switzerland. They aim to foster collaboration and networking among scientists, but they also value cultural differences. Indeed, during my stay the Institute organised many cultural activities. For instance, they organised a multicultural dinner, where people were invited to prepare iconic food of their countries, and it turned out to be an amazing evening. Everybody brought something unique and prepared funny and interesting descriptions of the food. It was a world tour around a table, and I discovered how good Iranian food is in particular!

“The work I have carried out in Switzerland will be introduced in a joint publication”

What was a personal highlight on your trip?

My goal for this experience was to learn specific techniques in animal microsurgery, but I gained much more. I joined an unexpectedly multidisciplinary team. My colleagues had different backgrounds, ranging from basic science to translational and clinical studies. They all taught me their skills; a vascular surgeon taught me how to perfectly sew a mouse, while a PhD student showed me how to use a cutting-edge machine for flow cytometry.
In my opinion, sharing competencies is fundamental for advancing in science and during my stay I experienced how exciting it is to do it.

Host lab group: Elisa Sorrenti, MD Agnese Cianfarani, Proff. Giandomenica Iezzi, Julija Djordjevic, and Georgia Lattanzi

Have you brought back any specific knowledge or technique that has benefited your home lab?

As soon as I came back I presented my project to to my home institute research group. Now, I am already teaching my colleagues the skills I acquired. As I said, sharing is indispensable in science.

Does your lab plan to do any future collaboration with the host lab?

Thanks to this experience, I have established a collaboration with the research group of Prof. Dr.ssa med. Iezzi and my home group. The work I have carried out in Switzerland will be introduced in a joint publication, and new collaborations are now in progress between members of the host and the home institutions.

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.