Alex Mur Espinosa is a PhD student at the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology in Spain who received an EACR Travel Fellowship to visit and work at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the United States between April and September 2023.
The EACR is supported by 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: Alex Mur Espinosa
Job title: PhD student
Home institute: Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology in Spain
Host institute: Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in the United States
Dates of visit: 11 April – 30 September 2023
Other funding organisations: EMBO Scientific Exchange Grant
Research: Cancer patients can relapse months, years or even decades after an apparent remission of the disease when tumors regrow as metastatic and resistant to chemotherapies leading to high mortality. This is due to a small population of cancer cells that survive therapies and remain undetectable to the available diagnostic tools as “latent seeds”. We are studying the biology of these cancer cells trying to find any vulnerability for their eradication. We identified the protein HIVEP2 as one key factor ruling this phenomenon and put our efforts to understand its role and modulate this protein to offer new therapeutic options.
Why did you decide to apply for an EACR Travel Fellowship?
The EACR is an organisation that helps to boost researchers’ careers in many different ways, such as conferences, webinars, grants, etc. As soon as I was offered the opportunity to visit a different lab to continue with my research, I did not hesitate to apply for this Travel Fellowship. Being awarded the EACR Travel Fellowship has allowed me to advance in my PhD project, discover new aspects in which the protein I am studying is involved, expand my professional network, and live the “New York” experience.
Did you have a personal mentor or anyone who particularly helped you?
I had the pleasure to meet Cristina Megino, a junior postdoc and a very clever scientist, who joined the group just a couple of months before me. She helped me a lot since I landed in the city, both in the lab and outside, so she rapidly became a good friend of mine. There was also Daniela De Martino, a senior postdoc, who together with Cristina were of great help suggesting ideas, discussing results and experimental design. We spent a lot of time together in the lab crying and laughing, but also sharing a lot of experiences outside the lab.
“Not only I have grown as a scientist, but I also had the opportunity to do network with virtuous scientists who have inspired me to keep giving my best”
Did you take part in any local activities?
New York offers plenty of activities, especially during the summertime, where the weather encourages you to do outdoor activities. Central Park is where I spent most of my free time, either running there, having a picnic, listening to concerts, watching plays, or just lying on the grass. Who hasn’t heard about Broadway? I had the opportunity to watch many different shows there like The Lion King, Wicked, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Moulin Rouge. Not to forget a baseball match, Amateur’s Night at the Apollo Theatre, the fireworks on the 4th of July and many other events.
Have you brought back any specific knowledge or technique that has benefited your home lab?
In my host lab they use chicken eggs as an in vivo model to reduce the use of mice and because the experiments are much faster and cost-effective. I have been able to learn how to work with them and what type of experiments they can be used for. Currently, we are buying all the equipment and tools needed to implement it in my home lab. Our idea is to start using this approach in our routine work which will help the group in obtaining faster results and reduce costs.
How has this visit been beneficial to your research?
Being there has allowed me to experience new ways of doing science and provided me with different tools and point of views that I will for sure apply in the future. I have been able to learn new cutting-edge techniques and apply to my research new approaches that I was unable to do in my home lab because of lack of equipment or expertise. Not only I have grown as a scientist, but I also had the opportunity to network with great scientists who have inspired me to keep giving my best.
If you are interested in applying for the Travel Fellowship scheme, please click here for more information: EACR Travel Fellowships.