Iva Sutevski is a Research Assistant at the Karolinska Institute, Sweden who received EACR Travel Fellowship funding to take up a lab placement at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland between 01 November and 06 December 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.

Iva Sutevski

Name: Iva Sutevski
Job title: Research Assistant
Home institute: Karolinska Institute, Sweden
Host institute: University of Lausanne, Switzerland
Dates of visit: 01 November – 06 December 2022
Research: Our research aims to uncover the mechanisms by which tumours escape the immune system. Using a mouse breast cancer model, we analysed its complex microenvironment at several stages of progression. Through our analysis, we identified nine cell types and observed dynamic changes in their abundance and activity over a four-week period. By better understanding how tumours evade the body’s immune responses, we hope to pave the way for new, more effective treatments for cancer.

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

As an EACR member for several years, starting from my master’s studies, when I developed an interest in cancer research, I knew about many valuable resources, conferences, and opportunities offered by the organization. When planning a visit to a collaborating lab, the EACR Travel Fellowship was the first option that came to mind. Not only did I require financial assistance to cover travel and housing expenses, but I also believed that being awarded a fellowship from such a reputable organization would be a notable achievement that would benefit my future career.

Why did you choose this host lab?

We are fortunate to have a continuous collaboration with the Joyce lab, as it is a worldwide renowned lab for exploring the immune micro-environment of tumours and exploiting it in therapy. Our current project, which focuses on the temporal dynamics of murine breast cancer microenvironment, was initiated in the Joyce lab. All the animal experiments, sample collection, and single-cell RNA sequencing were performed there. After analysing the transcriptomics data, we wanted to investigate the spatial architecture of these tumours. To accomplish this, we decided to utilize HIFI, an advanced and cost-effective method for detecting up to 60 protein markers in tissue sections at single-cell resolution. This technique was developed by Dr. Spencer Watson in the Joyce lab.

“I gained valuable experience with a cutting edge multiplex imaging technique, which further strengthened my passion for spatial proteomics and motivated me to pursue this field in the future”

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

During my visit, I performed highly-multiplexed immunofluorescent staining on murine breast cancer samples collected at four different stages of tumour progression. The panel that I used consisted of 16 markers that will aid us in identifying and localizing many immune cell types and phenotypes, including T cells, monocytes, macrophages, as well as studying the overall tissue morphology and vasculature. In preparation, I conducted several preliminary experiments to validate the antibodies and optimize the staining protocol for this specific experiment. Through this experience, I gained a deeper understanding of immunofluorescent staining, image processing, and analysis. I am interested in spatial proteomics methodologies and intend to utilize them in my future research.

Iva in the host lab

Describe a typical day on your visit.

During the first two and a half weeks of my visit, I focused mainly on conducting preliminary experiments, such as validating all the antibodies and optimising the staining order, as some markers are better detected in earlier rounds of staining. During this time, I had frequent discussions with Dr Spencer Watson, my mentor during the visit, and the members of my home lab who are working on the project. The main experiment followed a consistent daily pattern: checking the overnight imaging (the most exciting part!), removing the antibodies, antigen blocking, antibody incubations, and setting up new overnight imaging. In the last week, I began pre-processing all the collected images, working primarily on the image-processing workstations in the lab.

What were you able to do that you could not have achieved in your home lab?

The key benefits of my visit to the Joyce lab were: 1) gaining in-depth knowledge and hands-on experience with the highly multiplexed immunofluorescent imaging (HIFI) method, including image processing and analysis, under the guidance of Dr Spencer Watson, and subsequently 2) being able to apply this advanced technique to our samples to gain new insights into our research

Iva and her mentor, Dr. Spencer Watson

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

During my visit, I was fortunate to have Dr. Spencer Watson, a senior postdoc in the Joyce lab, as my mentor. He taught me how to perform the highly multiplexed imaging technique, including image processing and analysis pipeline. He provided guidance in preparing and optimizing our experiments and was always available to provide feedback on our results and discuss the next steps.

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

The data I collected during my visit to the Joyce lab will provide us with a comprehensive spatial and temporal understanding of the immune cells present in the tumour microenvironment. This information will help us determine if time-associated cell types and phenotypes act as a brake or an accelerator on tumour progression, which could aid in the design of new cancer therapies. This visit was also extremely beneficial for my own career development. I had the opportunity to meet many brilliant researchers, whom I hope to maintain collaboration with. Additionally, I gained valuable experience with a cutting edge multiplex imaging technique, which further strengthened my passion for spatial proteomics and motivated me to pursue this field in the future.

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.