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.

Name: Tessa Sandberg
Title: PhD student
Home institute: LUMC, University of Leiden, the Netherlands
Host institute: Institute of Cancer and Genomic Sciences, University of Birmingham, UK
Dates of visit: 20 January – 20 December 2018

Research: Colorectal cancers (CRC) grow within a microenvironment which can be favourable for the spread of cancer cells. For instance, tumours surrounded by many ‘healthy cells’ like fibroblasts lead to invasive CRC and poor patient prognosis. In fact, activated fibroblasts provide growth factors and nutrients for cancer cells to grow. My PhD aims to better understand the biology of CRC with increased amount of activated ‘healthy cells’. This could help to provide adequate treatment to the patients. One part of my research focuses on the interaction between fibroblasts and colorectal cancer and the other part focuses on the tumour metabolism which can be altered by the microenvironment.

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

As an EACR member and ambassador, I previously attended two conferences and I heard about the travel fellowship during one of the conferences. I decided to apply for the fellowship to cover my costs. I was aware that my application was different from usual applicants as I was staying abroad for nearly one year. I was very happy to be awarded the grant!

I was very inspired by the atmosphere

Why did you choose the host lab?

There were three important reasons as to why I chose Professor Tomlinson’s lab:

  • Their extensive expertise in biology of colorectal cancer
  • The availability of large multi-omics databases
  • Their strong bioinformatics skills

It was easy to arrange because there had been a collaboration between my department and the host research group for some years. Four years ago, during my Master’s degree internship, I visited the lab and I was really inspired by the work they did. I decided to visit the research group to perform a bioinformatics project in order to acquire new skills.

Have you brought back any specific knowledge/technique(s) that has benefited you ?

Tessa Sandberg
Tessa (middle) with her cycling club

My research consisted of data analysis and bioinformatics of large datasets. When I started the project, I had little experience in the field. My supervisor, Dr Roland Arnold, is a bioinformatician and he taught me how to use the ‘programming language’ Python as well as the use of R. The main challenge when a biologist and a bioinformatician work together is that they do not always talk the same ‘language’ and may not understand each other. Fortunately, my daily supervisor has a strong biological background, which contributed to learning bioinformatical skills.

Did you take part in any interesting local/cultural activities?

Back home I love to take part in road cycling and I joined a lovely cycling club in Birmingham called Beacon RCC. Through the club, I participated in different competitions, which are not available in the Netherlands such as the British traditional hill climbs (cycling up a hill as fast as possible).

Tessa Sandberg
Tessa (far right) attending her friends’ graduation

My rides provided me with the opportunity to see the countryside such as during a one-day 300km ride where I met many local people of all ages. Being part of the cycling club made my stay in Birmingham unique!

How has the trip inspired your research?

I was very inspired by the atmosphere of the host lab. The researchers’ main aim is to solve innovative research questions and there are no limits to what is achievable. Professor Tomlinson was always keen for me to be involved in side-projects and he put me in contact with scientists who have certain areas of expertise.

Does your lab plan to do any future collaboration/publication etc. with the host lab?

I would love to have the opportunity to continue working with the Institute. This year has strengthened the relationship between my lab and Professor Tomlinson’s group, which will certainly be beneficial for my future career.

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