Seed and Soil 2019: A Participant’s View

Participants from 36 countries from as far as Brazil, Australia, Malaysia and South Korea gathered in Berlin, Germany for the 2nd joint EACR-MRS Conference on Seed and Soil: Mechanisms of Metastasis on 7-9 October 2019.

100% of participants said they would recommend the meeting to others in the post-conference feedback survey. Meanwhile, 98.6% of participants rated the quality of the scientific content as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’. This feedback mirrors the majority of EACR Conferences.

Keen to find out more about Seed and Soil 2019? Read our conference review here.

We awarded five EACR-Worldwide Cancer Research Meeting Bursaries to assist early-career members to attend the conference and present their work. Each bursary includes a free registration and funds of up to €500 to support travel and accommodation costs.

Take a look through the reports of the Seed and Soil 2019 Meeting Bursary recipients to hear about their experiences.

1Emma Nolan, Postdoctoral Fellow

Home institution: Francis Crick Institute, London, UK

More than half of all cancer patients will undergo radiation therapy as part of their treatment plan. Despite technological advances, off-target radiation exposure still remains a significant challenge for these patients, and can lead to unwanted side effects and may limit their treatment success. My research aims to uncover the effects of off-target radiation exposure on healthy lung tissue, to understand what changes this causes and how this might influence cancer cell growth and behaviour. This may uncover a possible new therapeutic intervention for these patients, with the hope of improving their health and survival following treatment.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

Giving an oral presentation was definitely a highlight for me! I listened to so many fantastic, inspiring talks during the conference, and I felt very proud standing on that stage alongside such a high calibre of speakers! The feedback and questions I received following my talk were also very positive and helpful as well.

Emma with fellow EACR Ambassador, Marzieh Ehsani

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

I found the level of engagement at the conference really impressive! In contrast to some conferences I have attended, the lecture theatre was completely full for every single talk (even the ones first thing in the morning!). There was so much discussion and questions following the talks. It was obvious that everyone attending was highly interested in the topics. I also thought the size of the conference was perfect. There wasn’t a need for concurrent sessions, meaning it was much easier to have discussions, particularly with speakers and group leaders.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

I found the discussions (especially during the poster sessions and following my talk) so useful and I got so many ideas! A lot of people were asking me about the extracellular matrix composition, and whether alterations in its structure or composition could explain the findings I am observing. I got lots of helpful tips for testing this hypothesis, which I am trying out now! I was also given the idea to do Light Sheet Microscopy following these discussions, and I have tried this a few times now and the results look exciting!

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

I was particularly impressed with Janine Erler’s talk on decellularizing tissue, where she showed they had recently managed to decellularize a total of 33 different mouse tissues! I thought that was amazing, and I told everyone in my group about it when I got back.

2Patrick Aouad, PhD student

Home institution: Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne, Switzerland

Breast cancer (BC) is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women. It is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths due to metastases. Factors governing the critical transition from localized BC to invasive and metastatic disease remain poorly understood, and that is predominantly due to the lack of adequate mouse models. We have recently overcome this hurdle and developed a pre-clinical xenograft model that recapitulates the different stages of the human disease by grafting tumor cells into the mammary ducts instead of fat pad. Using this model, I am investigating the role of Epithelial-Mesenchymal activating transcription factors in promoting metastasis of BC cells.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

The highlight of this conference would be the discussion forum “To EMT or not to EMT, or anything in between” where I got to listen and interact with the panel of speakers and the audience. The forum offered me the opportunity to share my opinion on a debated topic in the metastasis field.

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

During the poster session, I got to meet and discuss my findings with Christoph Klein whose work on early dissemination in breast cancer has intrigued me and helped shape my research interests. I got many nice suggestions and questions from his part that will help advance my project and answer some gaps I am currently facing.

Patrick Aouad
A big part of my work consists of imaging tumors on the microscope.

How was this conference different from others you attended?

The most important aspect of this conference is the topic (metastasis) which is what I am currently investigating in Cathrin Brisken’s Lab. The talks were very engaging. In particular, students were encouraged to ask questions and talk to the speakers. This was remarkable cause often students tend to be shy and not ask many questions; but the environment promoted such interaction.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

There were many renowned scientists in the metastasis field giving very engaging talks. I took several notes of findings and data that might help answer some of the gaps in my research. In addition, the poster session was very beneficial, I got several nice questions and ideas from interested audience.

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

I have prepared a powerpoint presentation where I presented the major findings of each speaker during the lab meeting. The presentation was well-received by my colleagues. They were very interested in the data presented during the meeting and asked several questions.

Have you brought back any specific knowledge that has benefitted your research?

Personally, the conference proved to be very beneficial. First of all, the line-up of renowned speakers in the metastasis field has been fantastic; the shared findings during the talks and poster sessions reflect state-of-the-art advances and science conducted in the metastasis field. The poster session was enlightening. It was a delight to discuss with people my findings but also to discuss theirs and find out that we share common gaps and obstacles. This was truly helpful and encouraging to see that all PhD or post-docs struggle but thrive to share good science. Finally, the Discussion Forum and Meet the Expert sessions were a delight and aspiring to attend.

3Angela Araujo, PhD student

Home institution: Biodonostia Health Research Institute, Spain

I am interested in understanding how cancer cells communicate with the tumour microenvironment in breast cancer. I also look at how the tumour hijacks the surrounding tissue to progress and spread to other parts of the body.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

I really liked the allocated time for debating the EMT, a relevant topic that was of general interest. It gave participants different views on how a wide spread concept is sometimes over simplified. Sometimes, this can lead to misinterpretations or wrong assumptions.

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

I was particularly interested in attending this conference to try to find potential collaborators that could help us understanding the mechanisms of metastasis in breast cancer. During the poster presentations, I had the opportunity to talk to people from a lab in Edinburgh that are working with the same breast cancer model. We had a useful discussion, exchanged contacts and we are now in touch making arrangements for a possible future collaboration.

Angela Araujo
Angela in the lab

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

The amount of time for presentations and questions was really well distributed. I particularly enjoyed the allocated time for debating a relevant topic in the field. This was a new concept for me and I found it really useful.

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

I had the opportunity to visit the Futurium musem located in central Berlin. Currently, there are exhibitions about the future of the planet Earth. It is a very special place!

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

This conference really emphasised the importance of looking at cancer as a whole picture. To fully understand cancer, we cannot only focus on what happens in tumour cells itself but rather on everything that is present in the whole microenvironment and all the possible interactions between those distinct cell types. This inspires me to always try to approach my experiments thinking about the possible interactions between the tumour cells and the microenvironment.

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

I was excited to tell my colleagues about our possible future collaboration and the highlights and conclusions from the EMT debate.

4Sahar Israeli Dangoor, PhD student

Home institution: Tel Aviv University, Israel

Diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer patients have been considerably improved in the last two decades. However, brain metastasis still presents a major clinical hurdle, being a leading cause of death from cancer. Thus, better understanding of the metastatic cascade is essential. In our research, at the lab of Prof. Ronit Satchi-Fainaro, we focus on the mutual interactions between metastatic breast cancer cells and the brain microenvironment, and on the mechanisms that facilitate brain metastases formation. The findings from this study may be utilized to provide a novel approach for the prevention of breast cancer brain metastasis.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

“Meet the Expert” with Andreas Trumpp was a great session! It was not only informative, but also very honest and sometimes amusing point of view of the scientific career. He shared with us his own experience and some great tips. He helped us think about how to plan ahead and manage our career as scientists, a topic that is not often enough addressed.

Sahar Israeli Dangoor
Sahar preparing samples for protein array

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

The main focus of the conference was the mechanisms of metastasis. Usually, relevant conferences are much broader, dealing with many aspects and fields of cancer research. But here essentially all of the lectures were highly relevant and interesting! In addition, there were unique sessions such as the “meet the expert” and “to EMT or not to EMT” discussion. They were very refreshing.

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

In the conference, I found out about a lab that develops mouse models, and is willing to share with anyone! This could help me focus in my research, and not to start working on developing a model (which is of course time consuming, and is not the main purpose of my research).

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Despite the conference targeting a very specific field in cancer research, the lectures were very diverse. They highlighted different aspects, methods and research approaches. The selection of speakers couldn’t be better. The main take home message for me was to be open to new ideas, and that there are so many creative ways people are dealing with the problems and questions we encounter in science.

5Tom Harrijvan, PhD student

Home institution: Leiden University Medical Center

Colorectal cancer is the second most common cancer type, and has a specific pattern of metastasis that shows a preference for the liver. It has recently been shown that in the tumors of a subset of patients, with the highest risk of liver metastasis (Consensus Molecular Subtypes Class IV), a certain cell type is very prevalent, which is called the cancer-associated fibroblast (CAFs). Our research focuses on the role these CAFs play in the process of liver metastasis and we are currently investigating the mechanisms by which they do this to come up with targets to prevent metastasis.

What was a personal highlights of the conference for you?

The diversity of topics discussed within the context of tumor metastasis really was the highlight of the meeting for me. It allows you to break out of your own ‘research bubble’.  The different approaches of different labs around the world in tackling similar problems was really enjoyable and inspiring for the continuation of our own work. Lastly, the ‘Meet the expert talk’ on the final day was also a highlight, hearing about the career choices and advice of a senior scientist in the field was a great way to end this conference.

Tom Harrijvan
Tom in the lab

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

Berlin was a great venue for the conference. This is due to the great diversity of cultural activities around the city. I arrived earlier to visit museums and areas in Berlin linked to WWII. The guided tour in the museum ‘Topography of Terror’ is something I would definitely advice to people visiting Berlin.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

I was especially inspired by the sheer amount of people/groups working on metastasis. It is amazing to see how their work all somehow connected to other research. It was nice to see these links between researchers and also that some groups already started to translate their findings to the clinic.

Have you brought back any specific knowledge that has benefitted your research?

My supervisor and I came into contact with a group that also works on the same signalling pathway as we do and had some nice experimental tools to further study this. Furthermore, we have access to interesting material from the clinic so we have talked about collaborating more on these particular projects. That was also eye-opening for me. It is actually quite easy to find someone who you can collaborate with in these conferences.