Laura Bozal Basterra is a postdoctoral researcher at CIC bioGUNE, Derio, Spain who received an EACR Travel Fellowship to visit and work at a lab at the Koch Institute, MIT in the US between 02 February and 27 March 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.

Laura Bozal Basterra

Name: Laura Bozal Basterra
Job title: Postdoctoral researcher
Home institute: UCIC bioGUNE, Derio, Spain
Host institute: Koch Institute, MIT, USA
Dates of visit: 02 February – 27 March 2023
Research: Prostate cancer is the third cause of death by cancer in Europe. Given the relevance of metastasis in the lethality of prostate cancer, we aimed to detect important genes that may play an important role in the development of metastasis to further develop therapies in prostate cancer. So, the question is, how could we identify those genes/processes that have a key role in metastasis? We made use of public databases that include the expression of genes altered during the establishment of macrometastasis and we identified the altered expression of components of a protein metabolism-related pathway, the UFMylation pathway.

Why did you choose this host lab?

I strongly believed that Dr. Vander Heide’s lab was the best place to carry our experiments out, given their expertise and state of the art metabolic research that they perform. Our work greatly benefited from collaboration with Dr. Vander Heiden’s lab on this project, since they are prominent experts and have published seminal studies in the field of metabolism and cancer. Dr. Vander Heiden’s Lab generated and holds all relevant reagents and tools required for this study and, more importantly, the expertise to guide me through the proposed experiments, which was invaluable for the interpretation of the results. Furthermore, the host institution (Koch Institute at MIT) and Vander Heide’s lab provide access to highly specialised, cutting-edge technology and first-rate technical expertise to the Metabolomics Core unit that were really needed at this point in my project. I have followed Dr. Vander Heiden for quite some time, so I knew that scientifically and personally it was the perfect fit.

“The visit provided me with key technical skills and expertise that I couldn’t gain in my home institution”

Can you summarise the research you did?

The aim of the visit was to learn metabolism-related techniques to understand how prostate cancer cells utilise energy for their own benefit, but I have learned so much more. On the one hand, I learned how to measure glucose consumption and metabolism fluxes in prostate cancer cells. On the other hand, I took part in a research project where they were trying to understand how cancer cells respire. In order to help them understand this process, I used different cell lines that I brought to Spain to continue on this line of research, and establish what I know it will be a long lasting collaboration. Due to all the AMAZING expert scientists I was surrounded by at MIT, I was able to establish several collaborations and personal connections that will allow me to advance on my research and make science even more fun, making my stay really productive both on the professional and personal level.

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

MIT is a highly science and technology-enriched environment and I was happy and surprised that we celebrated the “Pi” (3.1416) day on 14th March at 16:00 to honour the number by eating some home made “pies”. Also, I was lucky enough to attend to a real American baby shower, a PhD defence and a Trivia night in a very cool brewery and… we won!

Laura with her lab mates at a baby shower during her visit

What was a personal highlight of your trip?

This trip has been one of the best experiences in my life, both on a professional and a personal level. I was able to work independently out of my home lab’s area of comfort. This felt really enriching both as I scientist and as a person. I feel extremely lucky to have met such wonderful and smart people in the lab, and Dr. Vander Heiden is an amazing scientist, person, and one of the best supervisors that I have encountered in my life. This experience made me confirm that the scientific career is the path I want to follow up in my life. At the personal level, I felt a strong connection with some of the members of the lab and I am sure these friendships and connections will last forever. Finally, I was travelling with my husband and my son and we found the trip to be an amazing experience as a family as well!

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

In addition to working on the results for the publication of my future paper, I was able to help in another project at Vander Heiden’s lab and we are trying to build together future publications in this regard. But, most importantly, our labs will be in touch from now on trying to help each other in future research projects.

How has your trip inspired you in your research?

I had the opportunity to be supervised by Dr. Vander Heiden, whose prestigious research group pioneered important advancements in the field of metabolism and cancer. This will help me stand out when applying for postdoctoral positions in the future, therefore allowing me to progress in my career. The visit provided me with key technical skills and expertise that I couldn’t gain in my home institution, thus improving my profile as a researcher.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

I am extremely thankful to the EACR for granting me with the economical support that I needed to launch my scientific career. This means a lot to us researchers, and we will remember these kinds of experiences for the rest of our lives. It has been a pleasure to deal with the EACR in this regard.

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.