The Invisible Phase of Metastasis Virtual Conference: Our Bursary Winners’ Experience

We met virtually for the EACR Conference on The Invisible Phase of Metastasis in December 2022, and were delighted to award our final round of Virtual Meeting Bursaries to student and early career EACR members and cancer researchers in low or middle-income economy countries.

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.

You can read below about the experiences that some of the winners had at these events.

Take a look at upcoming conferences here:

1Adrià Cañellas Socias

Postdoctoral Researcher, IRB Barcelona, Spain

Research: During my PhD we analyzed in-depth the mechanism of metastasis in colorectal cancer (CRC). For that, we developed a new model that recapitulates metastatic relapse – the main cause of death in CRC patients – in mice. This allowed us to make two key discoveries for the field that were published in Nature in 2022. We discovered the identity of tumor cells that regenerate metastases at distant organs and we found an Achilles’ heel for CRC relapse using immunotherapies. Our study is a breakthrough towards understanding CRC recurrence and will pave the way to new treatments that will hopefully save people’s lives.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

A personal highlight of the conference for me was having the opportunity to present for the first time in a big conference my own research in a flash talk session. It was a great experience to be able to share my findings with my peers and receive valuable feedback from experts in my field. Additionally, I was able to connect with other researchers who were working on similar topics and we were able to discuss potential collaborations for future projects.

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

Yes, I received very positive feedback from several scientists and we used the online chat to discuss ongoing research and potential collaborations in an informal setting. Additionally, I had the opportunity to see presentations from several researchers in my field whom I had not seen previously. Overall, the virtual social and networking experiences provided me with valuable connections and insights that I wouldn’t have been able to gain otherwise.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

This conference was different from others I have attended in that the topic of the conference was much more specific and focused, which was a positive thing for me. Because the research being presented was closely related to my own area of study, I was very interested in all of the talks and found them valuable. This level of specificity allowed me to gain new insights and knowledge that I wouldn’t have been able to obtain from a more general conference.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Yes, I would like to mention that the topic of “the invisible phase of metastasis” is in my opinion very timely and necessary. It was interesting to see the different approaches researchers are taking to understand this complex phenomenon. The research area has been neglected for a long time because of how difficult it is to study residual metastasis, and therefore, efforts such as this conference are extremely valuable. It was inspiring to see how much progress has been made in recent years and how many scientists are working on this important problem.

2Anshika Chauhan

PhD Student, Post Graduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, India

Research: Oral cancer is a major health problem in low and middle-income countries. The survival of these patients is very poor due to the spreading of cancer to different parts and recurrence even after completion of treatment. Circulating tumour cells (CTCs), are the cells which detach from cancer tissues and are involved in the spreading and recurrence of the disease. My research focuses on predicting these events by detecting and characterising CTCs in oral cancer patients, so that the most optimal therapy may be planned for individual patients.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

I am grateful to the EACR and organizing committee of this virtual conference, for allowing me to attend and present my work at the EACR conference on “The invisible phase of metastasis: Impact of dormancy, cancer cell plasticity and evolution of the niche during metastatic progression”. It was a great experience and pleasure to listen to renowned scientists in the field of cancer metastasis from all over the world.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

The poster sessions were extremely well-organised and interactive. Different people could come to my virtual room and discuss my work. I could also go to the rooms of other presenters to discuss. This type of session provides a very inspiring platform to interact with other people working in the field more openly and facilitates great scientific exchange. The discussion forum session on translating emerging findings to prevent lethal metastatic disease was amazing. It was an excellent and very apt discussion that is much needed for scientific exchange.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

The quality of the talks was outstanding. I learnt a lot in my research area, which will definitely help me to extend my research ideas to other directions, with a broader outlook. During the conference, I learnt about new research strategies, and insights and learnt how to discover novel molecular pathways to understand in-depth cancer cell dormancy and plasticity. The talk of Prof Sarah-Maria Fendt on how PHGDH heterogeneity derives from cancer cell dissemination, and metastasis was extremely interesting and inspiring.

Was there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about?

I learnt that it is extremely important to think in depth about any research question and discover the mechanistic link for any hypothesis. Even a small lead can give important insights into the scientific problem. I want to tell my colleagues to always think in-depth and look for the clues identified from the previous experiments.

3Charlotte Roelofs

Postdoctoral Researcher, Olivia Newton-John cancer research institute, Australia

Research: Dormant cancer cells are responsible for the relapse of breast cancer. We believe a gene called MYC regulates the exit of dormancy. We have established an aggressive breast cancer line with changeable levels of MYC. When low, dormancy is induced both in vitro and in sites of spontaneous metastasis in mice. Importantly, this dormant behaviour is reversible when the break on MYC is removed. Treatment with a non-specific MYC inhibitor (I-BET151) mimics this behaviour and significantly reduces metastasis. We are currently investigating the expressed genes in these dormant cancer cells, to identify therapies that will prevent breast cancer recurrence.

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

I really enjoyed presenting my poster and having both Christoph Klein and Laura Ramirez attend and stay for a chat. My research seems to overlap with Laura’s current experiments, as I also found an upregulation of autophagy and mitophagy in dormant cancer cells. I will incorporate a similar strategy and investigate whether blocking autophagy kills these dormant cancer cells in an in vitro model of dormancy. If this is the case, I will try the therapy in our preclinical mouse models 

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

This conference felt different because the tone of a safe environment was set from the beginning by Christoph Klein’s introductory presentation and was maintained throughout the proceedings. At times, conferences with well-published investigators can be quite intimidating, so to have a prominent researcher in the field immediately address that and support the attendees was reassuring. 

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

In the final panel discussion Christoph Klein drove home the point that the models we currently use to investigate dormancy might not reflect cancer biology very well. Specifically his points about primary tumour growth rates were very thought provoking. In our lab, we routinely inject breast cancer cells into the mammary fat pad, a tried and tested way of growing breast tumours. Cathrin Brisken presented her data on the MIND injection route, showing the technique resulted in slower growing tumours more closely resembling clinical growth rates. Hearing both Cathrin’s and Christoph’s talk has reinvigorated me to also get trained in that technique to get our models one step closer to the clinical situation. 

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

Currently I am trying to dissect the results of an RNA sequencing experiment, that investigated the gene expression of MYC-low cells. These normally aggressive cells display a dormant-like phenotype in our in vitro and in vivo models when MYC expression is knocked down. As was to be expected, the bioinformatic analysis has yielded a large number of differentially expressed genes, and I have been a bit deterred by the sheer volume of the data. However, hearing Cyrus Ghajar mention that a silver bullet, in the form of a biomarker ubiquitous in all dormant cancer cells, is unlikely and that we instead should look at the processes that are affected in dormant cells, has further validated my own approach of looking at up- or downregulated pathways, as opposed to singular genes. 

4Mariana Nunes

PhD Student, Institute for Research and Innovation in Health (i3S), Portugal

Research: My research focuses on chemoresistance as a major treatment challenge for ovarian cancer (OC). The development of new therapeutic options is envisioned as a method to overcome chemoresistance and recurrent disease. We hypothesize that targeting specifically the chemoresistant OC cells allow to development new therapeutic options. The main aims of my current research are to identify, isolate and characterize chemoresistant OC populations using cell line models and ascitic fluid-derived cancer cell cultures; and identify novel therapeutic strategies to overcome chemoresistance by combining drug repurposing with conventional chemotherapy.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

I really liked the poster presentations. All of them had many interesting results and ideas, which in a way helped to clarify some issues in the various subjects and contribute to inspire my research in oncology field.

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

In this scientific event I have learned some interesting knowledge that could benefited my research work, especially the poster presentation performed by Dra Hannah Harrison “Developing an In Vitro Model of Primary Breast Cancer Interactions with the Metastatic Niche”. The system described in this presentation is new for me and aroused a special interest by the potential application in another tumour context, namely in the development of an in vitro model that recapitulate the peritoneal dissemination of ovarian cancer that include the various steps and participant of this process.

Was there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about?

I wanted to tell my colleagues about all the fascinating presentations I had seen straight away. In fact, I have researched for more works (i.e., papers) from the groups that participated in the EACR congress. At this time, I have downloaded the available papers of the speakers Dra Laura Vera Ramirez, Dra Sarah-Maria, Dra Ana Luísa Correia and Dr Cyrus Ghajar; and I have shared with my co-workers. I believe that will contribute for our next works.

5Paulina Marona

Postdoctoral Fellow, Jagiellonian University, Poland

Research: Inflammatory processes play an extremely important role in the growth and development of cancer. One of the modulators of the inflammatory response is the MCPIP1 protein. Recent reports suggest that the MCPIP1 protein may significantly affect the development of cancer by regulating factors involved in the processes of growth, proliferation and cell death. Our group showed that the level of MCPIP1 in the tumor tissue is significantly lower compared to the healthy tissue in renal cell carcinoma. We are trying to understand the role of MCPIP1 in neoplastic transformation and the acquisition of resistance to anti-angiogenic drugs. 

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

My personal highlight was session 3 “Cancer evolution, plasticity and progression” This topic was the most interesting for me because it was directly related to the subject of research that I am currently conducting. This session was very inspiring and thanks to it I figured out how to improve our research. 

How was this conference different from others you have attended?  

The conference was relatively small compared to other conferences I’ve attended before, but it was focused on the specific topic of metastasis. Nevertheless, the lectures were varied and extremely interesting. I’ve learned a lot, and I’ve got new ideas after couple of lectures. In addition, this conference was very ‘homely’, I had the impression that many people knew each other very well, which made the atmosphere very good. 

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

I was especially interested in the topic of cell dormancy and senescence due to my current research, thus lectures in this field was very important for me. I really enjoyed Cathrin Brisken lecture about cell plasticity, because my results was quite similar, and unexpected for me so I was very curious about her point of view on e-cadherin role in metastasis. Other very inspiring lecture for me was Harald Schuhwerk talk, because my team is working on EMT and we are planning to analyze tumor microenvironment. Overall, the lectures was brilliant, inspiring, and I was a little overwhelmed how good their research was. 

Is there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about?

I will go back again to Cathrin Brisken’s lecture and her results on e-cadherin. We also observed an increase in the amount of metastasis with an increase in the amount of e-cadherin. After the lecture, I discussed her results with my supervisor and we came to the conclusion that it is extremely interesting and requires further work. 

Have you learnt any specific knowledge that has benefited your research? 

I’ve learnt a lot of dormancy and senescence, the differences between this two processes and methods of evaluation. This knowledge is important for my future research, because we found that mechanism of resistance to sunitinib is the entry of cells into a senescent state, with high expression of e-cadherin and secretion of SASP.  

6Adedoyin Adefisan-Adeoye

PhD student, University of Ibadan, Nigeria

Research: My research project is on anti-cancer effects of Calliandra portoricensis (CP)- a known antitumor plant used in herbal homes to treat breast related diseases in Nigeria. I investigated and established the anti-cancer properties of CP against the development and spread of breast cancer cells to distant organs in vivo and in vitro. Furthermore, the active constituents of this plant responsible for its anti-cancer activities will be investigated and developed into a new treatment for early stage breast cancer and its progression. In general, this would help improve the quality of life for patients with breast cancer.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

My overall impression of the conference was that it was well-organized, engaging, and educational. In the presentation, the speakers shared their research findings, which gave me a great insight into what I might investigate further in the metastasis phase of cancer research. The breakout sessions were also very beneficial, as we got the chance to discuss our research and the contributions of the experts.

How was this conference different to others you have attended?

In addition to been inspired by all the speakers, this conference was a bit different from other recently attended conference because I felt fully involved in the conference most especially during the breakout session where I was opportune to present my work and also get to discuss it with other great minds.

Is there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about?

Yes! In fact, I already shared my experience and what I learnt from some of the speakers research findings to some of my colleagues most especially from Dr Adrià Canellas’ presentation from his PhD findings on metastatic recurrence in colorectal cancer arises from residual EMP1+ cells.

7Derya Yıldız

Masters student, Istinye University, Turkey

Research: My main focus is drug repurposing. I am researching whether the old drugs used in different diseases have any value as cancer treatments.

How was this conference different to others you have attended?

First of all, I was very happy that the conference time and program were adhered to. Unlike other conferences I attended, the topics discussed were interconnected and metastasis was evaluated from every angle.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

I really liked that the speakers talked about the difficulties they faced and the problems they faced while performing their work. Because I have learned that not every subject can be studied immediately and requires a process of experience.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

Thank you very much for offering us this beautiful opportunity and allowing us to capture different perspectives. It is very difficult to do science in Turkey. However, doing science in these difficulties and impossibilities is my biggest motivation. It was a great excitement for me to share my work with researchers from all over the world. Thank you again for everything.

8Esraa Aldujaily

Doctor, University of Kufa, Iraq

Research: My research interest is to investigate the clinical significance of biomarkers as predictive or prognostic markers in cancer and am focusing on the use of artificial intelligence and machine learning as tools to explore more about the association between clinicopathological parameters of cancer and biomarker expression in cancer.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

The conference was an excellent opportunity for me to know more about the mechanistic in
cancer metastasis. The genetic and molecular background research in this area was just
fascinating, and how such advanced tools could be applied in the future direction of therapeutic strategies for patients with cancer. One of the outstanding talks in this area was by Laura Vera Ramirez. The second interesting talk for me was by Julio A. Aguire-Chiso from the USA , it was such an outstanding and comprehensive talk about the crosstalk between the immune cells and EMT markers in early disseminated cancer cells.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

I decided to investigate more on the mechanistic of EMT process and its role in cancer metastasis hopefully next time will have a poster presentation about this subject area.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

I would like to say thank you from the depth of my heart for EACR and Worldwide Cancer
Research for giving me this opportunity to attend such an outstanding conference which opened my mind and opened my eyes to new and advanced tools to understand the mechanistic behind cancer metastasis and explore more to pave the way for future good plans and researches that could help researchers in my area where resources are not good enough for us as researchers.

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