Becky Andrews is an EACR Travel Fellowship recipient who returned from Paul Scherrer Institute in Switzerland in July 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.
Name: Becky Andrews
Job title: Clinical Research Fellow (PhD)
Home institute: University of Sheffield (UK)
Host institute: Paul Scherrer Institute, Zurich (Switzerland)
Dates of visit: 10 July 2022 – 13 July 2022
Research: I am a clinical academic with a special interest in myeloma bone disease. Up to 90% of myeloma patients experience changes in the bone, such as thinning, holes, weakness and increased risk of fracture and pain. I am interested in improving our knowledge about why people develop myeloma bone disease, but most importantly how we can improve treatments for this condition. Currently, we have sub-optimal bone-targeted treatment options, but I believe if we consider the use of novel therapies we may be able to heal bone and improve outcomes for patients worldwide.
Why did you decide to apply for an EACR Travel Fellowship?
Following a successful application for experimental time at the Swiss Light Facility in Switzerland, I was keen to explore funding to allow me to complete the trip. I had limited access to funding, and as I am a member of EACR and BACR, I looked on the website to search for any project support and was excited to see the opportunity to apply for a Travel Fellowship through the EACR.
Why did you choose this host lab?
To answer our research question, it was crucial to go to an institute that would allow very high-resolution micro-CT imaging. There are very few synchrotron radiation facilities in Europe – SLS in Switzerland being one of them – with a particularly good reputation for their supportive collaborative working. I was so happy when the application that I co-wrote was peer-reviewed and awarded beamtime, as the application process is competitive, and time at the facility is difficult to secure.
Can you shortly summarise the research you did and what you learned on your visit?
As part of my PhD I successfully applied for beamtime at the Paul Scherrer Institute (PSI) Swiss Light Source, which is a facility that offers synchrotron radiation CT (SRCT) imaging. Samples had been processed from animal studies completed in my PhD, studies which aimed to assess myeloma bone disease (MBD) in response to different bone-targeted treatments. SRCT allows accurate assessment of cortical bone porosity between; (a) MBD and control bone and (b) response to bone-targeted treatments.
While at the facility, I was able, along with the team (which included two colleagues from my home institute, one collaborator from the UK, and a collaborator at the PSI) to use the synchrotron radiation to scan all of the samples for later quantification, modelling and analysis. I learnt how to use the facility to scan and recon samples and I also learnt a new method for fixing samples for imaging that I would definitely use again.
I have built collaborative relationships with members of the Southampton and PSI groups. In addition, I am now in the process of learning new software analysis techniques that were discussed during the trip. It was a very successful trip.
“There was fantastic comradery and the science was incredible”
How was a typical day on your visit?
The experimental time we were allocated amounted to 72 hours, and this included 24/7 access. To maximise the time and opportunity while we were there, we wanted to scan samples all day and night, and therefore myself and the other three members of our group did shift work throughout. The shift working was very difficult, as the shifts involved screen time, so switching off to get some sleep after long shifts in front of the computer without natural light was difficult. The scans were also incredibly quick, so there was rapid turnaround, with no breaks. I slept 8 hours in a total of 72hours! This makes the experience sound like an absolute nightmare, but it wasn’t. There was fantastic comradery and the science was incredible. For any bone/imaging “geek” it was an amazing experience!
When we weren’t scanning, we could stretch our legs in the beautiful surrounding area, which has a farm (cowbells and rolling countryside) and a very beautiful river. At the weekend there was a stone-baked pizza stall and a visiting Thai street food truck to make meal times something to look forward to!
What were you able to do that you could not have achieved in your home lab?
In our home institute, we attempted high-resolution scanning at 1.5 µm, and the scan took 9 hours and was very poor quality on our desktop scanner. At the synchrotron facility, we could scan at 0.65 µm and the whole scan could take just 10-15 minutes. This meant we could have superior image datasets to allow us to quantify very small details within the bone, but also that we could scan a huge number of samples in a very short space of time.
What was a personal highlight of your trip?
My personal highlight from the trip was when we got our first scan recon through, and I was first able to visualise the incredible detail that the facility could offer, it was the most amazing image of high-resolution bone that I had seen, and knowing we had got that scan in such a small scanning time added to the excitement!
Was the host institution very different from your own? Was there anything you particularly liked about the host institution?
The host institute was incredibly different from my home institute – the PSI is very rural, and has a very “live on site”/ campus feel (due to the nature of many students/work placements living at the hostels on site). At the PSI, they grow vegetables in lots of veggie patches around the facility, giving it a lovely homely feel. The facility itself is completely different, and we definitely do not have a particle accelerator at home!!!!! Due to the distances you have to travel around the site to reach the experimental area, there is access to scooters to help get around, which was a lot of fun (and was particularly welcome in the heat, as I was quite pregnant for the trip!)
Did you have a personal mentor or anyone who particularly helped you?
Goran Lorvic (PSI) was a fantastic support in setting us up with the experiment and the equipment. It was fantastic to get his guidance and learn from all his knowledge and experience throughout the trip. He was able to give us fantastic help prior to, during and following our trip.
How has the trip inspired you in your research?
The trip has been a great opportunity to realise my personal drive and potential – in that I drove the application forward to get the time at the facility, was able to secure funding to support the trip from EACR, and also felt able to go despite being 28 weeks pregnant. The work itself and the new collaborators encountered have also inspired new ideas of potential outputs from the datasets we have gathered, and I am really excited about where this work could lead.
“I truly believe that this Travel Fellowship award will help in the progression of this research idea”
Does your lab plan to do any future collaboration or publication with the host lab?
We will plan to publish our first data set in the coming year, and not only will this involve collaboration with the host institute (this has already been discussed) but also likely to include collaboration with another member of the team from a different UK institute who came to support the trip.
How has this visit been beneficial to your research and/or your career?
This visit has been really beneficial to my career development and research. It was fantastic to be awarded the Travel Fellowship to make it possible, and the travel award itself will be a valuable addition to my CV. In addition, the research went very well in Zurich, and I am currently in the process of writing a grant to support the preliminary analysis period, the grant of which I will be the principal investigator, which as an early career researcher is a great opportunity.
Is there anything else you’d like to mention?
I would like to thank EACR for generously supporting this work trip, without access to pockets of funding such as this, it would be incredibly difficult to be able to have these opportunities as an early career researcher. I truly believe that this Travel Fellowship award will help in the progression of this research idea (which I hope to have both basic and translation impact in the area of cancer-induced bone disease) and also in my own career progression. Many thanks again!
If you are interested in applying for the Travel Fellowship scheme, please click here for more information: EACR Travel Fellowships.