Mai Abdel Mouti is Postdoctoral Researcher at the University of Oxford, UK who received EACR Travel Fellowship funding to take up a lab placement at the University of California, US between July and 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.

Mai Abdel Mouti

Name: Mai Abdel Mouti
Job title: Postdoctoral Researcher
Home institute: University of Oxford, UK
Host institute: UC Davis, University of California, US
Dates of visit: 01 July – 29 September 2022
Research: Pancreatic cancer remains one of the most aggressive human malignancies, which is notoriously resistant to current chemotherapeutics. This is mainly ascribed to the subpopulation of cells, known as cancer stem cells (CSCs), which are evolutionary ‘fitter’ than other tumour cells to evade the cytotoxic effects of chemotherapy. Those cells are outstandingly critical for tumour relapse as they possess unique features which render them capable of regenerating the original tumour. The objective of our research is to identify novel transcription factors that regulate the maintenance and tumorigenicity of pancreatic CSCs, as well as validate their therapeutic applicability for pancreatic cancer treatment.

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

I applied for an EACR Travel fellowship to perform preclinical studies in xenograft models of pancreatic cancer in immunodeficient mice. The aim was to evaluate the safety and efficacy of candidate epigenetic drug inhibitors in suppressing tumorigenicity of pancreatic CSCs in vivo. Those experiments have been critical for the validation of our in vitro data in cell lines and conclusion of our research findings.

Why did you choose this host lab?

Dr. Hwang’s laboratory at UC Davis has a broad range of expertise in using xenograft models of pancreatic tumours in mice for tumorigenicity studies and drug testing. In addition, Dr. Hwang was the lead author of the Cell paper (PMID: 25557080), reporting the development of pancreatic organoid cultures (both mouse and human). We were particularly interested in utilising this type of xenograft models which offers a valuable in vivo platform for studying pancreatic cancer development and progression as well as predicting clinical responses to drug treatments. The lab also shares common research interests of studying epigenetic mechanisms driving tumorigenicity and chemoresistance of pancreatic cancer.

“I believe those techniques are useful to future projects in our lab and are very likely to expedite the validation and translation of our research findings”

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

I would not have been able to perform the preclinical studies in my home lab due to the lack of expertise in performing in vivo experiments in mice, in addition to the shortage of staff at our animal facility in Oxford which limits the number of running projects at the time. At UC Davis, I have learnt the techniques of mice handling, subcutaneous xenografting, intraperitoneal injections, measurement of tumour volume using digital calipers, and surgical resection of tumours, which I could not have achieved without guidance from experienced researchers.

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

Yes, I have brought back experience with in vivo experiments for preclinical drug testing, including experimental planning, pilot studies for determining the maximal tolerated dose of a drug, methods of calculating tumour volume in mice, in addition to technical expertise in mice handling, subcutaneous xenografting, intraperitoneal injections, measurement of tumor volume using digital calipers, and surgical resection of tumours. I believe those techniques are useful to future projects in our lab and are very likely to expedite the validation and translation of our research findings.

The Statue of Liberty that Mai visited during her trip

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

Yes, Dr. Chang il at UC Davis is already collaborating with us on our research paper which covers data of in vivo studies performed at his laboratory and under his supervision. He also provided his feedback and comments on our manuscript, which have been thoroughly considered in our submitted version.

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

It enabled me to complete my research project and submit our manuscript for publication. We also believe that there would have been concerns from the reviewers’ side if those experiments would not have been conducted, ands this would have had a significant impact on our ability to publish our work.

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.