Celia Brochen is a PhD student at UMR Inserm 1086 Anticipe at the Comprehensive Cancer Center F. Baclesse Caen in France who received an EACR Travel Fellowship to visit and work in the Slack Lab, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center / Harvard Medical School
Boston in the USA between February and June 2023.

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 Fellows and their experiences here.

Celia Brochen

Name: Celia Brochen
Job title: PhD student
Home institute: UMR Inserm 1086 Anticipe at the Comprehensive Cancer Center F. Baclesse Caen in France
Host institute: Slack Lab, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center / Harvard Medical School
Boston in the USA
Dates of visit: 01 February – 05 June 2023
Other funding sources: Erasmus +, – Cancéropole Nord-Ouest, and – Ecole Doctorale Normande de Biologie Integrative, Sante, Environnement
Research: Novel therapeutic strategies are urgently required for the clinical management of chemoresistant ovarian carcinoma, which is the second most lethal of the gynaecological malignancies with a 5-years survival rate for advanced stages under 30%. The current treatment for ovarian cancers consists in a surgery and chemotherapy. Despite a good primary treatment response, the majority of patients will relapse and develop resistance to chemotherapy. My research focus on the identification of small non-coding RNAs, called microRNAs, that are able to sensitise chemoresistant ovarian cancer cells to chemotherapy and to understand their mechanisms of action to propose new therapies for ovarian cancers.

Why did you choose this host lab?

Celia and Frank Slack

In June 2022, I met Dr. Frank Slack at a conference (4th International Conference on the long and the short of non-coding RNAs, Greece). Frank Slack is the director of the Harvard Medical School Institute for RNA medicine (HIRM, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston, USA) and is currently identified as one of the world’s leading experts in the field of the use of interfering RNAs for therapeutic purposes. His laboratory has developed innovative tools to vectorise miRNAs in numerous cellular and animal models, and more recently in 3D models such as tumour organoids from different locations. This work allows to consider miRNAs for a therapeutic application in humans, as shown by the various clinical trials that his team has initiated and that are currently ongoing. Joining this lab was the opportunity to acquire the technical mastery and the know-how of these vectorisation tools in a collaborative setting that allows me to study the effects of a microRNA identified during my thesis as being of interest in chemoresistant ovarian cancer lines.

Can you summarise the research you did?

During my visit, I was able to work on different models of study: a chemoresistant ovarian cancer cell line and patient-derived tumour organoids (PDTO) from patients with High Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer that Dr. Sarah Hill (Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston) and Dr. Alex Toker (BIDMC, Boston) shared with us.

During the first months of my visit, and in addition to my training in our lab (ORGAPRED platform), I learned to work on organoids. I worked with two tools, lentivirus and lipid nanoparticles, to deliver microRNAs in tumour organoids. First, I studied the delivery and spatial distribution of a microRNA in ovarian PDTO using fluorescence trackers. My preliminary results suggest that lentivirus could be a promising way for future experiments. After optimising the protocol, first experiments with the microRNA of interest alone or in combination with chemotherapy, were done on two ovarian PDTO. The validation of these first results is currently continuing on a panel of ovarian PDTO in my lab in France. The second part of my visit allowed me to do some experiments in order to complement my thesis work on the ovarian cancer cell lines.

“These new skills will be transferred to my home laboratory”

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

Celia and friends at the brewery tour

I saw how it was to live like a “Bostonian”. I arrived in February and visited the Samuel Adams brewery with the lab, the famous beer produced in Boston. I also took a bus with my roommate to visit New York, which is close to Boston. In March, I went to the St-Patrick parade and celebrated it in an Irish pub with some friends. April is the opening of the baseball season and since the BIDMC is the official hospital of Red Sox (Boston team), we had tickets for only 5$, so I went to a lot of baseball games. For Easter, I had a friend who invited me for an Easter diner. Finally, I had a group of friends with who I went to dance the swing every week and the country-dance (line dance) twice a week in a country bar (Loretta’s last call) which was for me the most American experience I had and I celebrated my last day with everyone there.

Have you brought back any specific knowledge or technique that has benefitted your home lab?

This mobility and this collaboration with Frank Slack lab members allowed me to learn how to deliver microRNAs in tumor organoids. These new skills will be transferred to my home laboratory, particularly to the ORGAPRED platform, recently accredited by the GIS IBiSA, which develops tumour organoids to meet the needs of research units. The acquisition of this new expertise will also offer the possibility to reinforce the team’s projects on non-coding RNAs since other miRNAs or lncRNAs recently identified as being of interest in our laboratory will also be able to be studied on these 3D models.

Did you have a personal mentor or anyone who particularly helped you?

Celia and Urmila

I was lucky to be part of a team with amazing people who helped me with my project. I would like to highlight Urmila Jagtap, a postdoc who was in charge of supervising me. We had so many “scientific and non-scientific discussions” as she likes to say. She supported me since my first day and put a lot of time and energy in my project, with meetings every week, helping me every day (she stayed until 10 pm to help me for my final presentation). My experience there was amazing thanks to her. There is also Latika Matai, another postdoc. She volunteered to take full weeks to show me new techniques and spent time even after I left to finish the last experiments I started. I learned so much from both of them, our goodbyes were sad but we will stay in touch and they are now part of this project. Finally, I want to thank Frank Slack, to be such a good lab director. He has many students but takes time for all of them. He gave me the opportunity to be part of his team and was here when I needed help and advice.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

I would like to thank all the people who made this project possible, starting with my supervisor Dr Christophe Denoyelle and Dr Frank Slack for the opportunity they both gave me and for their support during this mobility. I would also like to thank Dr Sarah Hill and Dr Alex Toker for sharing their organoids models and cell lines. This mobility would not have been possible without the financial help of the EACR, The Canceropôle Nord-Ouest, the Erasmus + program and my doctoral school (EDnBISE). I would also like to mention my friends there, starting with Ece, my roommate, we created a real friendship and we will see each other soon. Renata, Ecatarina, Elmyra and Francis, I won’t forget the time we spent together and Giuseppe, Coline, Sophie and Nathalie for our dance nights! I would like to thank all the people from the Slack Lab who help me, starting with Urmila and Latika for their help in lab experiments, Madison and Liam for their time spent in ordering and finally my colleagues from the ANTICIPE unit, the ORGAPRED team who helped me with the organoids protocols and Cecilia for her support during these 4 months.

Want to find out more?

If you are interested in applying for the Travel Fellowship scheme, please click here for more information: EACR Travel Fellowships.