“This study has generated high-quality and exciting data” – Dr. Melissa Conroy’s Travel Fellowship

Dr. Melissa Conroy is an EACR Travel Fellowship recipient who returned from Max Planck Institute in Germany in April 2019.

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.

Dr Melissa Conroy using the BD Canto II in the Flow cytometry and imaging core facility within Max Planck Institute for Aging.

Name: Dr. Melissa Conroy
Job title: Senior Research Fellow
Home institute: Trinity College, Dublin, Ireland
Host institute: Max Planck Institute, Germany
Dates of visit: 20 February – 13 April 2019
Research: Our published work to date in patients with obesity-associated cancer, revealed preferential movement of inflammatory T cells to human VAT and liver contributes to pathological obesity-associated inflammation. Furthermore, we demonstrated that CCR1 antagonism significantly reduces such movement. However, anti-inflammatory effects of the drug could not be tested in such ex vivo settings using tissue explants and therefore the use of an in vivo model was crucial to the advancement of this research.

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

The EACR Travel Fellowship was an excellent choice to enable me to perform a novel and clinically relevant study to validate a novel immunotherapeutic strategy in an in vivo model of obesity within a world-renowned research centre of excellence. Importantly, it allowed me to progress a novel CCR1 antagonist further towards clinical trials in collaboration with international biopharmaceutical company Chemocentryx. The funding obtained as part of my IRC research fellowship was not sufficient to support such travel and therefore, an EACR Travel Fellowship would allow me to answer a timely and clinically relevant question and enhance my research mobility.

Why did you choose the host lab?

Professor Thomas Wunderlich is an internationally renowned principle investigator at the Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Metabolic Research with major interest in the area of obesity and cancer. Prof. Wunderlich is well-published in the area of obesity with a multitude of publications in high-impact journals. His team routinely use C57BL/6 mice to generate mouse models of obesity and cancer. Therefore, his research group was an ideal choice for generating the mouse models during the project and shall be the catalyst in propelling our study toward clinical trials. MPI is a centre for research excellence and houses state-of-the-art facilities for performing studies of global consequence.

Dr Melissa Conroy working with lab technicians Anke and Patrick in Professor Wunderlich’s main laboratory within Max Planck Institute for Metabolism Research.

Can you summarise the research you did or what you learned on your visit?

We have previously reported an excessive number of inflammatory T cells migrate to the the fat and liver in obesity-associated cancer, where they can cause inflammation and contribute to the development of disease. We propose that we can use a novel antagonist against chemokine receptor CCR1 to reduce the movement of these cells to fat and liver and therefore reduce and prevent disease. We have already shown that this CCR1 antagonist can significantly reduce T cell movement to the fat and liver in humans. During this visit, we tested whether this drug can be orally administered to reduce inflammatory T cell migration to the fat and liver of obese mice and whether it can attenuate obesity-associated inflammation. We hope that this drug can be used in humans to treat and prevent obesity-associated disease.

Did you have a personal mentor who particularly helped you?

Dr. Claudia Wunderlich is a senior postdoctoral researcher and drives multiple research studies in Max Planck Institute (MPI) for Metabolic Research. She was pivotal to the successful organisation and running of the study and ensured that everything was in place before my arrival. Based on her expertise, she could estimate the number of personnel needed to assist in the busy days of mice take-down. She enlisted the help of several team members to assist us in tissue harvesting and processing which ensured timely and efficient experimentation.

Dr Melissa Conroy at ​Cologne Cathedral.

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

I visited the cathedral, the Museum Ludwig and the River Rhine. I also ate schnitzel and drank the famous Cologne beer called Kolsch.

Does your lab plan to do any future collaboration or publication with the host lab?

This study has generated high-quality and exciting data from which we will prepare a publication that has potential to translate into actionable knowledge. Importantly, Professor Wunderlich and I have planned to continue our collaboration by investigating other chemokine pathways in obesity-associated inflammation and cancer. He has supported a PhD scholarship application to the Irish Cancer Society for a student under my supervision to travel to his lab in the 4th year of her PhD.

How has this visit been beneficial to your research and/or your career?

I have gained invaluable experience in the completion of in vivo studies in collaboration with world-renowned experts in my field. This will certainly inform my design and organisation of future studies. Furthermore, I have observed the functioning of a centre of research excellence and gained insights into their processes and efficiencies.

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.