Learning cutting-edge cancer imaging techniques – Andreia Matos’ Travel Fellowship

Andreia Matos is an EACR Travel Fellowship recipient who returned from the Queen’s Medical Research Institute in the UK in June 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.

Andreia Matos working together with Dr William Cawthorn and his group.

Name: Andreia Matos
Job title: PhD student
Home institute: i3S – Instituto de Investigação e Inovação em Saúde, Portugal
Host institute: Centre for Cardiovascular Science, The Queen’s Medical Research Institute, Edinburgh, UK.
Dates of visit: 07 June 2022 to 21 June 2022
Research: Obesity increases the risk of developing Hodgkin Lymphoma, a type of cancer affecting white blood cells and lymph nodes. Hodgkin Lymphoma can be monitored using FDG/PET-CT, a scan that detects cancer’s high metabolic activity. In my research, we used these scans to investigate if the metabolic activity is linked to the fatness of relevant tissues, particularly bone marrow and lymph nodes. If so, this may explain why obesity increases the risk of getting Hodgkin Lymphoma and allow us to use tissue fatness as a marker to improve the monitoring and treatment of this disease.

Why did you decide to apply for an EACR Travel Fellowship?

I found that Dr. William Cawthorn produced robust and interesting data on bone marrow adiposity using FDG/PET-CT. His group, based at The Queen’s Medical Research Institute in Edinburgh, works on bone marrow adipocytes and I saw this as an opportunity. When Dr. Cawthorn accepted to receive me in his lab to expand my knowledge and improve my thesis, my first thought was to apply to the EACR Travel Fellowship. I knew the project, the home and host agreement, and my purpose fit EACR designation of providing scientific opportunities to young EACR members to improve their skills, network and produce results on cancer research.

Why did you choose the host lab?

I was familiar with the past work of Dr William Cawthorn. The usage of FDG/PET-CT to uncover precise marrow adiposity was relevant for my subsequent research and promised to open new avenues for my research. Additionally, Cawthorn’s group and The Queen’s Medical Research Institute at the University of Edinburgh are renowned for the cutting-edge, multidisciplinary environment that could advance our research. On a personal level, I had the opportunity to meet Dr Cawthorn at a congress and found that in addition to his important credentials as a scientist and teacher, he is a congenial individual, devoted to scientific research, work and team.

Can you shortly summarise the research you did?

The analysis of BMAT and perinodal adipose tissue using PET/CT was based on segmentation of the BM cavity and LN from the CT images, applying a threshold to discriminate the BMAT from the red marrow. The imaging procedure involved the utilization of hardware and software resources at the University of Edinburgh Imaging Facility. In short, we applied a threshold based on Hounsfield units of yellow marrow and red marrow using a specific software based on data from Hodgkin Lymphoma patients who had undergone paired CT. Then we matched this information with the PET scan to determine how the metabolic activity compares between fatty and non-fatty tissues.

“I appreciate the opportunity I had to exchange ideas with experts in the field”

How was a typical day of your visit?

The days were spent in training and group discussions to understand the best approach to the project. Then, we proceeded with the analysis of cases. I had regular meetings with Cawthorn’s team, where we would discuss practical issues of the Laboratory and we would address and solve hypotheses/doubts related to the project.

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

At home, it would have been difficult to access specific software and build the expertise needed to quantify bone marrow adiposity through imaging techniques within a reasonable timeframe. Beyond the technical support provided, I appreciate the opportunity I had to exchange ideas with experts in the field of bone marrow and imaging.

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

My host mentor at Edinburgh was William Cawthorn, who accompanied and provided all the support to perform the planned tasks. I have worked closely with Calum Gray, who provided the skills and taught me how to perform the image analysis, with all precise small details. I very much appreciated all the staff and trainees. During the relatively short period I spent with them, I was delighted to be in contact, work and learn from them.

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.