Andrea Abaurrea is an EACR Travel Fellowship recipient who returned from Netherlands in June 2022. Read her experiences in her report below.

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.

Name: Andrea Abaurrea
Job title: PhD student
Home institute: Biodonostia Health Research Institute, Spain
Host institute: University of Twente, Netherlands
Dates of visit: 01 March to 01 June 2022
Research: Metastasis is the leading cause of cancer-related death, requiring tumour cells to detach and move from the primary tumour, enter blood vessels and colonize a new organ. Integrins are the most important molecules in the surface of cells to attach to their surroundings and generate the needed force in the cells to move, and play key roles in every step of metastasis. The Oncostatin M (OSM) is a signalling molecule that induces tumour growth and metastasis. My project is focused on understanding if OSM promotes the aforementioned effects by modulating one specific integrin (integrin α5) in triple negative breast cancer.

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

My PhD fellowship does not cover any cost related to stays abroad, so receiving a travel fellowship was crucial for this internship. Moreover, I already had an excellent experience with EACR grants, as my first PhD lab mate also enjoyed an EACR Travel Fellowship. Furthermore, we had both been awarded by the EACR with a bursary to attend the EACR 2018 conference in Amsterdam, so I had no doubt to count on you to try to make this experience possible.

Why did you choose the host lab?

We knew about the selected host group because my supervisor Dr. Maria M. Caffarel met the Prof. Jai Prakash at a conference around 2017, while he was presenting their work in which they developed an inhibitor of integrin α5. This gave rise to a collaboration in which we started to do some experiments with their integrin α5 inhibitor in our study of OSM in triple negative breast cancer. In September 2021, we virtually met each other at the “NanoTME2021” conference organized by Prof. Dr. Jai Prakash in which I participated with an oral communication and was awarded with a prize for best short talk. In view of our promising results, we decided to arrange this internship in order to complete the OSM and integrin α5 story and try to publish our work.

Was the host institution very different from your own?

Our research centre is much smaller and it is located in a hospital complex, while their laboratory is in a big building within a huge university campus with several other buildings and departments. Moreover, we have one specific lab per group and then some common facilities (e.g. genomics, histology,…) in our centre, while their lab was composed of different specific rooms (microscopy lab, biochemistry lab, cell culture lab,…) where all the benches and instruments were shared among different groups from the university.

However, I would say that in general terms both labs were quite similar structurally and aesthetically although they had some instruments that we lack in our home laboratory (e.g. Nanozoomer, high performance liquid chromatography, a extruder,…). Nevertheless, the feeling while working was similar in both places at the end of the day, I felt at home in the host lab.

Did you have a personal mentor or anyone who particularly helped you?

Yes. The person who has spent most of the time with me and to whom I am extremely grateful is called Kunal Pednekar and is from India. He taught me practically everything I have learned during my stay, both technically and with the general operation of the lab and the university. He really helped me a lot with everything I needed. I want to add that even if Prof. Prakash was very busy and not present in the laboratory, he was very kind, accessible and opened to solve any question I could have.

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

Yes. In the following months, I will teach my colleagues all the gained knowledge and skills. On the one hand, I learned to perform 3D in vitro co-culture models with cancer cells and fibroblasts to mimic the tumour-microenvironment crosstalk, and we will set up this model in our lab. Afterwards, we will also try to add immune cells to the system generating a 3-way co-culture. On the other hand, I will transfer to my lab mates the extensive experience I gained in immunostaining techniques (immunohistochemistry and immunofluorescence).

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

Yes, our idea is to publish about the role of integrin α5 in OSM-promoted breast cancer progression combining the work done in our home lab and in the host lab during my thesis. Moreover, they are developing some lyposomes to target specific macrophages that they want to test in vivo in breast cancer. However, they lack the expertise to generate orthotopic breast tumours in mice so we are planning to perform the in vivo experiment in our home laboratory with the lyposomes that they will send us. This experiment will also allow us to analyse what happens with OSM signalling when these macrophages are targeted, which is very relevant for our work since the main OSM production in vivo is performed by macrophages. We will also keep our collaboration active by having regular online meetings and we will invite Prof. Prakash to give a scientific seminar at our Institute in the coming months. We are also opened to future exchange of students/ investigators between both laboratories.

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.