“I was very lucky” – Maria Saigí Morguí, EACR Travel Fellow

EACR Travel Fellowships are co-sponsored by Worldwide Cancer Research and provide funds up to €3,000 to early-career cancer researchers. For more information on how to apply for Travel Fellowships, you can visit the EACR website.

Name: Maria Saigí Morguí
Title: MD, PhD Student
Home institution: Genes and Cancer group, Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute, Catalan Institute of Oncology, Spain
Host institution: Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, USA
Dates of visit: April-June 2019
Other funding organisations who supported your trip: University of Barcelona

Maria Saigí Morguí
Maria at the 13th Dana Farber Lung Cancer Symposium.

Research: My main research focus is to understand the contribution of genetic alterations in lung cancer. In particular, MET driven tumours, to escape the immune-surveillance checkpoints in order to promote tumour growth. In addition, I aim to develop a better understanding of the interaction between cancer cells and the immune cells within the tumour microenvironment that precludes the host’s immune response. Moreover, this will help to discover novel techniques to assess these findings. The translational impact of my research aims to find potential predictive biomarkers of immunotherapy that helps to select which patients might benefit the most.

Why did you choose the host lab?

During my PhD program, I had the opportunity to do a short-term fellowship abroad. I decided that the US would be an ideal setting to apply for a fellowship because it is an influential location for scientific research. As a medical oncologist, I am very concerned about the translational impact of my research. This led me to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, an integrative centre of patient’s care and oncological research. I am also interested in immune-oncology, which is a similar line to my thesis research.

it was an enriching and inspiring experience

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

Similar to my PhD, my project focused on a novel immune-checkpoint marker in lung cancer and its potential predictive value to immunotherapy. I had the chance to work with ex-vivo organotypic tumor spheroids derived from tumor samples of patients (PDOTS). I used a specific device successfully developed at the host institution. This technique helps my current project to understand the interaction between tumor cells and immune cells better. I also learnt to generate targeted gene CRISPR knock-out models using cell lines. I also worked very closely with a bioinformatician who helped me to perform computational analysis with available data that is relevant for my current research.

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

Boston is an impressive and dynamic city with a youthful feel. There were always many activities and events to take part in. They also significantly improve when the weather is nice. My lab-mates and I would sometimes catch an “afterworks” drink. I also followed the gastronomic routes around the city and did some hiking outside of the city.

Maria Saigí Morguí
Maria in the lab

Was there anything you particularly liked about the host institution?

I really appreciated the collaborative attitudes and the respect amongst the scientists as well as the multidisciplinary feel of the team. I was very lucky to work closely with biologists, medical oncologists, pathologists and bioinformaticians. Overall, it was an enriching and inspiring experience.

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

I was grateful to my mentor, David Barbie for his enthusiasm, proactivity and easy communication, as well as the warm welcome from the lab. All of the postdocs in the lab contributed to me enjoying my stay and I am especially thankful to Israel and Navin. We discussed science, shared lunchtimes and helped improve each other’s technical skills and in turn, each other’s research. I would also like to give thanks to my mentors in my home institute, Montse and Ernest. They encouraged me to take advantage of this opportunity.

Maria Saigí Morguí
Members of the David A. Barbie lab (from left to right and from up to down): Dr. Kartik Sehgal, Dr. Erik Knelson, Dr. David A Barbie, Shiram K. Sundararaman, Dr Shunsuke Kitajima, Dr Israel Cañadas, Brandon Piel, Dr. Ryohei Yoshida, Dr. Navin Mahadevan, Dr. Jessica Ritter, Maria Saigi, Tran Thai, Saemi Han, Oriol (visitor).

Does your lab plan to do any future collaboration/publication etc. with the host lab?

During my time in Boston, I had the chance to work on my own project, which follows a similar line to my PhD. It focusses on a novel immune-checkpoint of interest in lung cancer and its predictive role for immunotherapies. It has enabled collaboration between my home and host laboratories to be established.

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

My visit to the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute has contributed to my personal development as a medical oncologist. Meeting fellow professionals and establishing collaborations with like-minded individuals has been really benefited me. In addition, I would love to do a postdoctoral position in the host institution.