Silvia Dominquez Garcia is a PhD student at the Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria (IBBTEC) in Spain who received an EACR Travel Fellowship to visit and work at the Institute of Genetics and Cancer in the UK between March and July 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.

Name: Silvia Dominquez Garcia
Job title: PhD student
Home institute: Institute of Biomedicine and Biotechnology of Cantabria (IBBTEC), Spain
Host institute: Institute of Genetics and Cancer, UK
Dates of visit: 06 March – 02 June 2023
Research: Tumours are not able to grow and metastasise by themselves. They need the cooperation of their surroundings: the “tumour microenvironment”. One of the most important components of this microenvironment are the Cancer Associated Fibroblasts (CAFs). Fibroblasts are cells which maintain the integrity of organs and tissue all
over the human body, and they participate in wound healing processes. However, cancer cells induce a permanently activated state in these fibroblasts, becoming CAFs with pro-tumoural functions to promote tumour growth and metastasis. Thus, CAFs represent a promising target for new anti-cancer therapies that can improve the quality of life of cancer patients.

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

In Spain, where I’m currently doing my PhD, international stays in a different country are awarded with a distinct PhD title called “International PhD”, which is different and more prestigious than a normal PhD title. However, my current PhD fellowship does not cover these activities, so I needed to find additional funding. In addition to that, at that time I had only performed cancer research in my home country. Thus, I thought it would be very
enriching both at the personal and professional level to move abroad, work in a completely different environment and see how science is done in other countries.

How did you choose the host lab?

In my PhD project, I was lacking some molecular information that would be most valuable to be able to explain all the biological effects I have described so far. Together with my boss, we decided it would be very beneficial for my project to do some proteomic studies. Dr. von Kriegsheim is a very recognised expert in this EACR Travel Fellowship evaluation guidelines field, and my lab had a very productive and enriching collaboration with his in the past. Thus, he was very welcoming and open for this new collaboration.

“It has opened my eyes to the world in a way I had never experienced before, and I’m certain that all this new knowledge about people will stay with me forever”

Can you summarise the research you did?

My current research focuses on the study of the protein HSP90 in the context of Cancer Associated Fibroblasts (CAFs). So far, I have very promising results at the functional level demonstrating an important role of this protein in the pro-tumoural behaviour of CAFs. However, I was lacking important information on how this protein is exerting its functions at the molecular level. Thus, I decided to go to the lab of Dr. von Kriegsheim and perform
some proteomic studies. I did a proteomic study of CAFs with silenced HSP90, and compared these results with proteomic data from normal fibroblasts. I also performed proteomics in Formalin-Fixed Paraffin-Embebed (FFPE) tissue samples originating from some in vivo murine breast tumors that I had previously obtained in my home lab, to check for possible differences in the tumor microenvironment of wild type vs. HSP90-KO mice

What were you able to do that you could not have achieved in your home lab?

In my home lab, I don’t have access to a mass-spectrometer, so it’s impossible for me to perform any proteomic analysis. In addition, for the proteomics of FFPE samples, I learned to perform laser capture microdissection to isolate the stroma of the tumour samples. All in all, these are advanced microscopy and molecular techniques that are not available in my home lab, nor in any other nearby research facility.

Silvia in the host lab

Was there anything your particularly liked about the host institute?

Something I really appreciated from my host institute is the way they cared about mental health and women in particular. As soon as I arrived, I was given an induction talk in which they explained they had a free psychologist service 7 days a week during office hours for everyone that needs it. In addition, they also had a free nurse available 24h and a specific nursing room. This service was also available for everyone, but I was told it was specifically intended for women that suffer from complications during their period. Even though I
didn’t need any of these services during my stay, I was really thankful for these possibilities and I think it’s something every public institution should have.

What was a personal highlight of your trip?

The host institution was very multicultural. I got to meet people from many different countries and learn from different cultures. This was the most enriching experience for me at the personal level. It has opened my eyes to the world in a way I had never experienced before, and I’m certain that all this new knowledge about people will stay with me forever.

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.