Roc Farriol-Duran is a PhD student at the Barcelona Supercomputing Center in Spain who received an EACR Travel Fellowship to visit and work at the UCL Cancer Institute in the UK between September 2023 and March 2024.

The EACR, with support from Worldwide Cancer Research, provides Travel Fellowships of up to €3,500 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.

Name: Roc Farriol-Duran
Job title: PhD student
Home institute: Barcelona Supercomputing Center, Spain
Host institute: UCL Cancer Institute, UK
Dates of visit: September 2023 – March 2024
Research: We aim to predict the immune response to cancer and pathogens using computers and AI-based tools. Our work benefits from immunological studies across the world which we use to train our predicting models. So far, we have implemented these models to design vaccines against viruses, to design strategies for early cancer detection and to predict the response to cancer immunotherapies.

Why did you choose to apply for an EACR Travel Fellowship to work at the host lab?

I needed economical support for my stay since my home institute funding was limited and UCL funding my stay was problematic due to Brexit. I was attracted to the host lab because of the very interesting set of skills to be learned, highly stimulating research envirionment and lots of data to be used for my projects.

Can you summarise the research you did?

Joining the UCL Cancer Institute at Dr Kevin Litchfield’s lab was a great opportunity to grow in a cancer center where I was exposed to a widely diverse and dynamic research environment. At CI I could attend loads of seminars including wet-lab research in immunology, hematology and clinical trials. Additionally, the close relation with UCH gave me access to clinical research presentations. The bioinformatic environment was also highly enriching and it benefited from the close ties with experimentalists.

What is more, at Dr Litchfield’s lab I got involved in several additional projects that enabled me to interact with other groups at CI and get to know other PIs in the institute. I am convinced these contacts will be of value in the future.

Last but not least, at the Tumour Immunogenomics and Immunosurveilance group led by Dr Litchfield I could learn and apply knowledge in multiple omics data and got access to pipelines, methodology and AI-expertise very related to my field.

Describe a typical day on your visit.

I had 8 hour days with a flexible schedule. All dry-lab work so mainly at my desk (my own) and attending many meetings and seminars. I mainly collaborated with bioinformaticians in the lab but also had the opportunity to collaborate with wet-lab scientists of the group, which was highly enriching.

Was the host institute very different from your own?

Yes, the main difference was the interaction between dry and wet-lab scientists. My home research center is all computational.

“I was able to do things that I would not have been able to achieve in my home lab”

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

Dr Kevin Litchfield, PI of my host group, was always helpful and insightful in our biweekly meetings.

Have you brought back any specific knowledge/technique that has benefited your home lab?

I have expanded the implementations of my immunoinformatic methodology to early lung cancer detection and could participate in multiple ranging from proteomics, transcriptomics and structural biology. All with an immunology background. Proving our immunoinformatics research line in a context with cancer patient data is an important step forward.

How has the trip inspired you in your research?

I learned loads about cancer research and immunotherapy, gaining an interest in cancer
prevention and early detection. I was able to do things that I would not have been able to achieve in my home lab, thanks to the access to federated learning pipelines to work with cancer patient data. This visit has been a step forward for my international PhD and allowed me to make good contacts for my future postdocs.

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

Yes, my host lab was highly social and we visited Cambridge and Oxford universities. The discovery of the City of London was a personal highlight of the trip for me, and its amazing research environment.

Does your lab plan to do any future publications or collaborations with the host lab?

I have become involved in multiple projects that imply collaborations between both labs. All of them aim to be published in high impact journals such as Cell, New England, and Nature.

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.