Read about Jasmine Barra’s summer fellowship to the Harvard Medical School

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.

Home institution and country: Dept. Molecular Biotechnology and Health Science, Molecular Biotechnology Center, University of Torino, Torino, Italy
Host institution and country: : Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Harvard Medical School, Boston, USA
Dates of visit: 10 May 2018 – 11 August 2018
Other funding organisations: SIBBM fellowship

I am currently studying the involvement of a protein called PI3K-C2a in the development of breast cancer and in response to chemotherapeutic drugs, such as Taxane. Moreover, I am working on the role of another protein in the same family, PI3K-C2g, in the progression of pancreatic cancer.

Why did you choose the host lab?
Jasmine Barra at lunch time with her collegues Dipikaa, Victoria and Ridhdhi

The fellowship in Prof. Muthuswamy’s lab represented a great opportunity to increase my knowledge in the field of the biology of BC, from a different point of view compared to my existing skills. During my PhD, I developed competences in cell and mice models of breast cancer, while thanks to this mobility programme, I keep up with the times, acquiring a knowledge in 3D cultures, a modern technology, which is still not available in my institute. Muthuswamy’s lab, that has pioneered both the development and use of 3D-culture methods, represented the best choice to acquire this technique.

Describe a ‘typical day’ on your visit.

After a 45 minute walk, I started my lab day at around 9am. In the first period, I mainly worked with my colleagues, trying to learn as much as possible about different projects and techniques. When I became more independent, I mainly focused on 3D cultures. Around 1 pm, I had lunch with some of my colleagues, according to our timetable and in the afternoon, I had a coffee with Italian coffee-addicted friends. Around 8pm, I went back home on foot and I often enjoyed a wonderful sunset along Charles River.

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

The Harvard Medical School was able to provide all the equipment necessary for the realisation of organoids, from reagents to pre and post treatment processing and banking of patient samples and high resolution microscopy.

Farewell party for my departure with all Muthuswamy’s lab: Dipikaa, Quingda, Ridhdhi, Ling, Lukas, Omar, Yasuhiro and Bruno
Did you take part in any interesting local/cultural activities?

Every 2 weeks, on Fridays, I could enjoy the happy hour at the 4th floor of BIDMC, where my lab was. This was an occasion to meet and talk with people from different labs, educational background and cultures. Moreover, I could visit high quality museums (MIT, Fine Arts, Natural History, Science), attractions (Sky line, Aquarium, Wales watching) and entertainment (musicals).

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

To be honest, I did not expect to find a lab with such kind and helpful colleagues! Every single person in the lab really helped me to set up, realise my experiments or simply find the reagents and instruments I needed. I was very lucky because I found a warm and positive environment. I think that Muthuswamy’s lab is an example of lab where you can do high quality science in a respectful and kind environment. Finally, I think that Prof. Muthuswamy himself is not only a good mentor, but also a very sensitive person.

I was very lucky because I found a warm and positive environment.

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

Thanks to the visit and collaboration with Prof. Muthuswamy’s lab, I acquired expertise in 3D cultures and organoids, a modern technique that I am now using in my institute.

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

I am still collaborating with Prof. Muthuswamy and his lab. In particular, we are taking advantage of its expertise in pancreatic cancer and organoids, together with his close relation with clinicians, in order to complete our project.