Cécile Cumin is an EACR Travel Fellowship recipient who returned from Griffith University in Australia in December 2019.

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.

Cécile Cumin

Name: Cécile Cumin
Job title: PhD student
Home institute: Department of Biomedicine, University Hospital Basel and University of Basel, Basel, Switzerland
Host institute: Institute of Glycomics, Griffith University, Australia
Dates of visit: 01 September – 23 December 2019
Research: High-grade epithelial ovarian cancer becomes aggressive when cancer cells leave the primary tumor site and invade distant organs in the peritoneal cavity. This process can be triggered by modification of sugar moieties also referring to glycans on the cell surface. These glycans play an important role in communication between cells and their environment. However, alterations of glycan structures can affect the cell behaviour making them more prone to metastasize or resistant to drugs. For this reason, my current research aims to understand how these glycans on cell surface of cancer cells promote mechanisms of ovarian cancer spread.

Why did you choose the host lab?

Professor Daniel Kolarich’s and Dr. Arun Everest-Dass offered me the chance to join the Institute for Glycomics for a short-term research exchange in order to learn and get access to a very innovative form of technology to determine and study the spatial distribution of the glycosylation repertoire in human-derived tissue samples. The collaboration with the institute had already been established a few years ago on other research projects. I got full and guided access to the entire mass spectrometry laboratory composed of a MALDI-MSI and a LC-ESI MS/MS (Iontrap and Orbitrap mass analyser).

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

I have learned processing formalin fixed and paraffin embedding (FFPE) sections for downstream analysis of N-glycans using MALDI-MSI. This experimental approach helped me to visualise and identify glycan composition between primary and metastatic site.
Moreover, we also started to develop a protocol to visualize GSLs on fresh frozen tissue using the same technology. To characterize our glycan structure from the same ovarian cancer fresh frozen tissues we extracted GSLs, glycoproteins and proteins that were analysed using the LC-ESI MS/MS. These different approaches and techniques that I used during my stay enabled me to build up my knowledge in mass spectrometry.

It has been a remarkable experience working with the team of Prof. Daniel Kolarich and Dr. Arun Everest-Dass. I’ve improved my knowledge in the mass spectrometry field and learned several new techniques.

In addition to the practical experience, I had the opportunity to attend the 18th Human Proteome Organization World Congress (HUPO) in Adelaide, present my early achievement and interact with leading edge scientists in the proteome and glycome research field.

“It was a unique opportunity to work with him and to learn so much about mass-spectrometry”

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

This Travel Fellowship experience allowed me to discover parts of Australia, visiting Adelaide, Brisbane and Melbourne as well as different sanctuaries to experience the beautiful wildlife. I also managed to drive along the Great Ocean Road where I could observe remarkable landscapes and the famous twelve Apostles.

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

My work was supervised by Dr. Arun Everest-Dass, who was a great supervisor and mentor, helping me to settle into my work environment and make progress. It was a unique opportunity to work with him and to learn so much about mass-spectrometry.

Cécile Cumin and lab mates

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

There are some manuscripts in the pipeline. An analytical challenge for the study of glycan using MALDI-MSI is the loss of sialic acid during the ionization of the tissue section which can bias the recorded glycan profile. For this reason, we have established a protocol to stabilize the sialic acid and avoid his dissociation by developing a linkage specific sialic acid derivatization. As a result of this work, we are about to publish this novel protocol in different science papers and improve the imaging of glycans in FFPE tissue sections. Moreover, the results obtained from my analysis of matched cancer tissue samples is planned to be part of a publication being part of my PhD.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

My stay at the Institute for Glycomics provided me with an incredible opportunity to learn more about glycan-based mass spectrometry. It was a pleasure to work with enthusiastic and great scientists, form new friendships and build a network which I am sure will boost my future career.

I would like to thank my supervisor Dr. Francis Jacob who faciliated this collaborative exchange during my stay in Australia. I would also like to thank Professor Daniel Kolarich for his warm welcome in his group, as well as, Dr. Arun Everest-Dass for his precious time spent teaching me all these new experiments and the analysis of the different mass spectrometry results.

Finally, I would like thank to Tiago, Abarna, Ropafadzo, Kathir, Anuk and Andreia for their friendship, support, kindness and their help during this visit.

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.