Irene Lasheras Otero is an EACR Travel Fellowship recipient who returned from the Li Ka Shing Center in the US in September 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.

Irene Lasheras Otero

Name: Irene Lasheras Otero
Job title: PhD student
Home institute: Navarrabiomed, Pamplona, Spain
Host institute: Li Ka Shing Center, University of California, US
Dates of visit: 01 April – 30 September 2022
Research: My research project focuses on the study of melanoma, which is the most dangerous type of skin cancer, trying to better understand the metastatic process. In order tometastasize, melanoma cells must shed from the primary tumour, get into the bloodstream and overcome different stress signals, to finally metastasize to distal organs. Less than 1% of the cells that reach the bloodstream manage to survive, so we want to know what makes these surviving cells different from the ones that die in the process, so that we can target them and avoid metastasis.

Why did you choose the host lab?

I was interested in broadening my scientific horizons, so I focused on labs that work on lipid metabolism but approach it from a different perspective. I also wanted to work at a bigger research centre with many different facilities, enabling me to attend weekly seminars and expand my network. I have followed Dr. Olzmann for quite some time, so I knew that scientifically it was the perfect fit. The group’s website conveyed their social values and showed a positive and dynamic work atmosphere that I wanted to experience.

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

The aim of the visit was to learn CRISPR-cas9 screen, but I learned so much more. On the one hand, I learned how to carry out death based CRISPR-cas9 screening in a suspension cell model that I have been working on for the past few years. On the other hand, I took part in a research project where they were trying to discover new drugs to induce ferroptosis in cancer cells. In order to help them in the process and to expand their results to other cancer types, I used 6 different melanoma cell lines that I brought from Spain and tried some of the drugs that they were testing. I was able to get some promising results in melanoma. Due to all the knowledgeable people that I was surrounded by, I was able to learn a lot about lipid droplet biology. This enabled me to develop some interesting hypotheses to try on my model, making my stay even more productive.

“I was able to accomplish many things on my own and I felt really valued as I scientist and as a person”

Was the host institution very different from your own?

It was much bigger and they had more facilities that I could ever imagine. Considering that the research centre in which I stayed was part of the University of California, I had access to all their facilities, which was awesome. Besides, the weekly seminars with some of the best scientists in their fields was something that I really valued.

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

Nearly everything that I learned during my stay would be much more difficult for me to have learned in my home lab, due to the lack of expertise in those matters and also the lack of equipment and resources to do so. I learned how to carry out CRIPSR-cas9 screen, how to use the Incucyte live-cell analysis and how to crystalise a protein. Moreover, I was able to practice and perfect my English. Furthermore, I was able to attend weekly seminars and talk to Nobel prize laureates!

Irene in the lab

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

Each person I met was a expert in a technique so depending on what I wanted to learn, I contacted different people in lab. However, for the CRIPSR-cas9 I mostly relied on Alyssa Matziowetz. She taught me everything I know about CRIPSR, in such a kind and patient way that I will always be grateful for.

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

In a short time, we are planning on applying what I learned about CRISPR-cas9 screen to another project. In fact, the idea is for all my lab mates at home to learn this approach so that we can establish it in our lab.

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

I was able to help in another project in Dr.Olzmann’s lab and I am going to be part of the future paper. Moreover, we would like to validate all the results that I got from the CRISPR-cas9 screen and publish them in a future collaboration. But most importantly, our labs will be in touch from now on trying to help each other in future research projects.

Irene and a friend at Yosemite

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

I visited different places with my family and a friend that came to visit. I was able to know San Francisco as my own hometown, and also went hiking and visited different national parks such as Yosemite, Grand Canyon, Bryce Canyon and Antelope Canyon. It was such a fulfilling experience!

How has the trip inspired you in your research?

This visit made me fall in love with science again. I was able to remember all the amazing things that this job entails, and to see another very productive and enjoyable way of doing science. We had weekly lab meetings and monthly journal clubs, and we used those moments to have something special for lunch together so that we could have fun while doing science. In addition to this, I was able to go on a lab retreat in summer as Dr. Olzmann thinks that getting people closer together and in a positive working environment make them work happier and in a more efficient way.

Irene’s poster presentation

What was a personal highlight of your trip?

It has been one of the best (if not the best) experience of my life, both on a professional and a personal level. I was able to accomplish many things on my own and I felt really valued as I scientist and as a person. I felt extremely lucky to have met such wonderful people in the lab, and Dr. Olzmann is an amazing scientist and the best supervisor that anyone could ask for. They all made me feel at home since day one and I felt that my ideas could fly in this lab! They take into account every single opinion of any lab member and make everyone better as a scientist.

Like I said earlier, I fell in love with science again as sometimes the PhD process can feel frustrating and difficult. This opportunity made me realise that science and cancer research is what I want to do for the rest of my life. I also made such good friends in the lab that I really think they will be friends for life. We connected from the beginning so I couldn’t have chosen a better environment for me. In addition to my experience in the lab, I was also fortunate enough to share a house with another woman and her dog. They were so loving and friendly that I also felt a strong connection with both of them. In fact, she is coming to visit next year. Last but not least, the weather, the landscape, and also the people from California are astonishing! Everything was amazingly great!

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

I would like to thank you for the opportunity to benefit from a Travel Fellowship, as it enabled me to have one of the best experiences of my life.

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.