We met in Bergamo, Italy for the EACR-OECI joint conference ‘Molecular Pathology Approach to Cancer’ in March 2023, and we were delighted to award several Travel Grants to help cancer researchers in need of financial assistance to attend the event.

Read on to learn about their experience of the conference.

1Francesca Pagani

Post-Doc Research Fellow, Department of Molecular and Translational Medicine, Università degli Studi di Brescia, Italy

Research: Glioblastoma with primitive neuronal component (GBM-PNC) is a rare variant of glioblastoma, the most frequent malignant brain tumour. It presents as a glial tumour with nodules of undifferentiated cells of uncertain nature and an aggressive biological behaviour, with increased propensity for dissemination. We show that both components harbour genetic alterations causing cell cycle deregulation and p53 pathway inactivation, but only the PNC component displays upregulation of transcriptional pathways associated with these alterations. In addition, we identified a transcription factor, EBF3, responsible for the PNC component development. We can conclude that the concomitant presence of cell cycle and p53 alterations predispose GBM to develop the PNC component via EBF3, unveiling a functional link between genetic alterations and phenotype.

Pagani presenting her poster

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

This was the first EACR event I have attended. The organisation was flawless and EACR team was so friendly and helpful. Since I am an Ambassador, I was asked to help with the microphone during a Q&A session. It was a beautiful experience! Moreover, many people asked me information or support during the Conference and that made me feel useful and part of a real community.

Were there any social or networking highlights you’d like to tell us about?

The conference was very clinical-oriented, while my project is more translational. Nevertheless, many attendants from all over Europe visited my poster and were very interested in my findings. Many of them took a picture of it and wanted my email address in order to contact me for applying my results in their daily routine. That surprised me and made me so proud of my work!

How was the conference different from others you’ve attended?

The conference was very interesting, the level of the speakers was very high. We found a lot to learn to learn and we received many take-home message from every of the talks. Also the industry partners presented very interesting products and data. This in not obvious, and I was positively impressed.

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2Ilaria Pace

PhD Student, University of Bologna, Italy

Research: My research field lies under the area of science, particularly in medical oncology and the analysis of large amounts of data generated with the advent of Next Generation Sequencing (NGS) techniques. My main project is focused on computer vision and image analysis with Artificial Intelligence methods. I’m currently working on a specific type of highly aggressive and metastatic cancer unknown primary site.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

The most important moment for me was definitely the time devoted to the poster presentation; I was able to engage with the experts and have exchange of ideas with other participants.

Ilaria at home in her lab

How was this conference different to others you’ve attended?

It was my first conference alone and I must say that I was very pleased with the organisation and the willingness of the experts to communicate and give me advice.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

I was definitely inspired by the experts, the other participants and their posters. I was able to reflect on some of the doubts I had about my research and discuss some aspects.

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3Sila Sigirli

PhD Student, Acıbadem University, Turkey

Research: It is well known that pancreatic cancer is deadly disease right now and pancreas has so many nerves. So that’s why my current research interest is neural invasion of cancer in pancreas. Which is an exciting topic because it is new way for the cancer to became more aggressive. Also, some important non-cancerous cell types that found in environment of cancer helps this cancer-nerve interaction. I believe that, if we can understand the interaction between nerve, cancer and cancer environment we can successfully treat pancreatic cancer.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

It was my first conference outside of the country. For me, the highlight was going abroad by myself and trying to start conversations from different researchers from different countries.

Sila presenting her poster

Were there any social or networking highlights you’d like to tell us about?

I met other PhD students who received Travel Grants, and they were studying bioinformatics. We shared our LinkedIn profiles and they told me that whenever I have questions I could ask them. Also, one of the students that I met there was planning to join next EACR conference in Barcelona, as was my supervisor. I introduced the two of them and they met up in Barcelona.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

I have only attended conferences in Turkey, but I could see that the scientific information and academic interactions were more effective at this conference. Also, the catering, organisation and staff were brilliant.

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

Yes, I came there one day before and I visited all the cultural places in Bergamo. Also, I tried lots of local foods like polenta e osei, pizza, wine etc.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

Seeing so many different researchers in my fist year of my PhD showed me where I am. I saw and talked to so many people and shared so many ideas, and I feel myself I need to study more, think more. Also, I am really inspired about how people ask freely, how people know about bioinformatics. So, I decided to improve myself about these topics.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

For countries like Turkey, going abroad is so hard. But the EACR gave me the chance to see how people work abroad. It was an awesome opportunity for me in my first year of my PhD. I really want to thank you because you enabled me to see a different country and to hear different talks. I feel a lot more comfortable, enthusiastic and goal-driven after my trip. Now, I am studying more to present more interesting studies in next EACR Congress.

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4Svenja Wagener-Ryczek

PhD Student, Institute of Pathology, University Hospital Cologne, Germany

Research: Biomarker research is the basis for personalised cancer therapy. Biomarkers are measurable biological signs. For example, they can indicate or predict the response to a given therapy and thereby allow patient stratification. MPNST are a small subgroup of soft tissue sarcomas with limited therapy options. Over 70% of these patients develop distant metastases after surgical resection of the tumor. Additionally, this tumour entity is characterised by a chemo-resistance, which further limits its treatment options. A novel idea to target such rare tumors is fighting them on an epigenetic level. HDAC inhibitors aim to shift the balance between transcriptional activation and repression, which is often deregulated in cancers, back to the normal state. In order to provide a trustful patient stratification, my project aimed to work on a predictive biomarker for MPNST sensitivity to the HDAC inhibitor vorinostat and unravel underlying mechanisms.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

A personal highlight was presenting my current PhD project in the poster spotlight presentation. I enjoyed presenting my project in a completely different way, focussing on the elementary points and attracting the audience’s attention to meet and discuss my poster in personal afterwards. In general, I enjoyed the poster discussion a lot, since I had inspiring discussions with other participants and speakers. It gave me helpful ideas to further proceed.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

The unique characteristic of this conference is its emphasis on collaborative networking and intensive discussions. It was the first time a conference enabled early career researchers and students like me to discuss with invited speakers and experts of the field very easily.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

The conference inspired me and my cancer research in different ways. On the one hand, keynote lectures of the experts inspired me to further proceed with cancer research to investigate molecular mechanisms of cancer, work on the development of biomarkers and as an overall goal improve cancer patient care in the future. Secondly, the panel discussion of the invited speakers dealing with their individual career path was more than inspiring for me how to develop and find a personal career path in cancer research. Last but not least, discussion of my project with experts of other research areas enabled me to consider it in all its aspects, which I might not have thought about before.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

I would like to mention the perfect organisation of the conference. The overall concept of topics, talks and invited speakers was outstanding. Further I really liked the idea of including expert and panel discussions and the emphasis of the conference on networking. I can really recommend to visit the next `Molecular Pathology Approach to Cancer´ conference – especially for early career researchers!

5Vanessa Welter

PhD Student, University Hospital Cologne, Institute of Pathology, Working Group Molecular Pathology Diagnostics, Germany

Research: Homologous recombination deficiency (HRD) positivity is defined by either a BRCA1/2 mutation and/or genomic instability. For patients carrying genomic instability and benefitting from PARP inhibitor therapy, the underlying mechanism responsible for the deficiency in homologous recombination is unknown. Thus, additional research on molecular level regarding alterations in genes relevant in homologous recombination repair is necessary.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

I really enjoyed the poster session. I did not expect so much interest in my research by the young and the more experienced researchers. I had great talks with the exhibitors and other researchers leading to further potential collaborative work. There was a great interaction and communication with other labs discussing how we analyse MSI compared to their testing strategy.

Were there any social/networking highlights you want to tell us about?

I had great talks with two exhibitors. A company that has caught my eye was SeqOne Genomics with their pipeline for HRD testing and their poster about HRD analysis in low tumour cell proportion, a known issue in the current testing methods. Their pipeline platform and variant interpretation tool can be of high interest in many future and current projects.

Furthermore, another exhibitor told me that his company is currently working on an assay for MSI analysis. He asked for collaboration in analysing and testing their kit and comparing the data of our validated testing methods to the data generated by their kit.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

As I am a new PhD student, I have never been to an international congress. I have been in great contact to other national institutes, collaborating with them on different topics. However, it is very important to not only collaborate and communicate nationally but internationally, as cancer research is a globally discussed issue.

Vanessa presenting her poster

Did you take part in any interesting local or cultural activities in your free time outside of the conference?

We got the chance to visit the beautiful old town of Bergamo at night. We drove up to the historical buildings and archways with the cable railway and looked down on the city lights of Bergamo. However, we would have wished to have some more time to explore the city.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

As I am currently working on my PhD studies on the topic of HRD analysis, we have dealt with several testing techniques for HRD detection in FFPE samples within a German technical harmonization study. However, we have never tested HRD in liquid biopsy samples as Prof. Dr. Heitzer reported in her talk.

When you got home, is there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about?

There have been several topics not only interesting for me but also for my colleagues. For example, the expert workshop introduced by Ellen Heitzer regarding liquid biopsy testing which is very interesting for one of my expert colleagues. Furthermore, as we are working with bigger and bigger panels in NGS we are testing different pipeline strategies and variant interpretation tools. Thus, we are very interested in learning more about the solution SeqOne Genomics presented at the conference.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

The organisation by the EACR-Team including Chris Iliffe, Kathryn Wass, Rachel Warden, Dr. Alexandra Boitor and Laura Kendrick in advance of the conference as well as during the conference was very well managed. It was nice to have a direct contact person in Laura Kendrick and Chris Iliffe who supported the applicants with every piece of information.

Interested in EACR Conferences and further Travel Grants?

We organise a variety of excellent cancer research conferences, both in person and virtual, where the latest research topics and interaction for participants are the very highest priorities.

To assist researchers who need financial assistance to attend our in-person conferences, we offer EACR-Worldwide Cancer Research Travel Grants. Recipients also get the opportunity to present their work as an oral or poster presentation. Each Travel Grant includes a free registration and funds to support travel and accommodation costs.

Make sure you add the dates of upcoming EACR Conferences to your diary now. Don’t forget we offer EACR member discounts on all of our registration fees!