Ângela Magalhães is a PhD student at the Institute for Research and Innovation in Health, University of Porto in Portugal who received an EACR Travel Fellowship to visit and work at the Leiden University Medical Centre in The Netherlands between March and June 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 Fellows and their experiences here.

Name: Ângela Magalhães
Job title: PhD student
Home institute: Institute for Research and Innovation in Health, University of Porto in Portugal
Host institute: Leiden University Medical Centre, The Netherlands
Dates of visit: 06 March – 02 June 2023
Other funding organisations: Salary costs were covered by the Portuguese funding agency FCT – Fundação para a Ciência e Tecnologia.
Research: Despite improvement in screening programs, colorectal cancer (CRC) is frequently diagnosed at advanced stages leading to high mortality rates. Novel biomarkers that contribute to early diagnosis, improve patients’ stratification, and estimation of recurrence risk will be clinically relevant. To achieve that, I am studying the extracellular matrix (ECM), a major component of the tumor microenvironment that gives physical support and interact with cells influencing their behavior. The characterization and comparison of the ECM signature in normal and tumor tissues contribute to better understand the biology of the disease and highlight potential ECM-related biomarkers for CRC diagnosis and prognosis.

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

I planned my stay abroad considering two important criteria: enriching professional challenges and personal growth. Considering the professional point of view, the main goal of my work was to highlight the clinical relevance of ECM proteins as potential biomarkers for CRC diagnosis and/or prognosis by validating those proteins differentially expression between normal and tumor tissue in a well characterized CRC patients’ cohort. For that, I needed the support of a specialized team in the field, Dr. Noel de Miranda’s team. Thus, the need to travel to The Netherlands emerged. Also, I projected the establishment of a long-term alliance with the host supervisor and institution with future rewarding projects, joint publications, and networking. As a personal goal, be inserted in a different culture and mindset would be the perfect trigger to get me out of my comfort zone and expand my horizons. Altogether, these goals matched the mission of EACR Travel Fellowships that foster and encourage young researchers to take smaller steps for bigger achievements in the future.

The supervision team at the host institute

How did you choose the host lab?

Dr. Noel de Miranda has a vast expertise in CRC tumorigenesis, immunology, and transcriptomic profile, who uses advanced spatial and bioinformatic methodologies to understand cellular interactions and contribute for the development of innovative immunomodulatory therapies. Also, LUMC is a world-renowned institution that provides cutting-edge tools and a multidisciplinary environment for the advances in several areas of research. Working with this outstanding team allowed me to learn about advanced bioinformatic tools to analyze patients’ data, correlate between RNA and protein expression using big data sets, and add an extra level of complexity by introducing the spatial component.

“Although this period abroad was short, the connections established with the host colleagues will be long-lasting”

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

The main work I performed during my stay at Dr. de Miranda’s lab was mostly data analysis with bioinformatic tools. I learned how to work with R programming language by using both mass spectrometry and RNA-Sequencing data which allowed me to explore a wide spectrum of potentialities from R. This was my greatest professional challenge but also my major achievement during this exchange that will open doors for me in the future. It is a very versatile tool that allow to accurately analyse large data sets with statistical computing and graphics without being time-consuming, being a great ally for the daily life of a scientist. This type of analysis is something that I do not have implemented in my home lab so far but with the knowledge that I acquired on Dr. Miranda’s lab, R will be part of our research routines in future analysis.

Ângela in the host lab

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

During this visit I was delighted for being supervised by Dr. Noel de Miranda, a renowned scientist in the field of cancer immunogenomics, especially CRC. Working side-by-side with Dr. de Miranda’s research group was really gratifying. I learned a lot about how to study the immune system populations and their interactions with cancer cells by resorting to single-cell data and spatial protein-based technology. The visit was more than analysing my ECM data and search for clinical relevance. It was also a distinctive opportunity to learn from other areas and discuss ideas to joint efforts in the future and create complementary work between both research fields. I gained key technical skills and knowledge that will foster my research and improve my profile as a researcher.

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

My host supervisor at LUMC was Dr. Noel de Miranda and I had the opportunity to closely work with Dr. Jessica Roelands, my host mentor. Dr. Jessica is a great scientist and expert in bioinformatics who provided the skills to perform data analysis from mass spectrometry and RNA-Sequencing in R to achieve my scientific questions. Also, I performed some microscopic studies to analyse ECM morphology with the precious help of a PhD student, Cor Ravensbergen. I am very grateful for the opportunity to work and learn from such excellent scientists and amazing people. Although this period abroad was short, the connections established with the host colleagues will be long-lasting.

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

Two joint publications describing the data gathered during my visit are being prepared, a more technical report and a research paper. These findings will be presented in international conferences in the field of cancer research. Moreover, a collaborative project application between both home and host labs is being projected and will be submitted at the end of the year.

Thank you very much once again for allowing me to live this amazing experience with an EACR Travel Fellowship.

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.