“This will help me stand out when applying for postdoctoral positions in the future” – Claudia Martins’ Travel Fellowship

Claudia Martins is an EACR Travel Fellowship recipient who returned from University of Louvain in Belgium in August 2022.

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.

Claudia with the magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) apparatus, used to follow tumour progression in the glioblastoma mice mode.

Name: Claudia Martins
Job title: PhD Candidate
Home institute: Institute for Research & Innovation in Health, University of Porto, Portugal
Host institute: Louvain Drug Research Institute, University of Louvain, Belgium
Dates of visit: 18 July – 31 August 2022
Research: Conventional chemotherapeutic drugs used to treat glioblastoma (GBM), a brain tumor with only 15-month median survival, present low blood-to-brain transport and cannot specifically recognize the tumor site, hence causing numerous side effects throughout healthy tissues. To overcome these drawbacks, I am developing a nanoparticle (NP)-based chemotherapy (a) modified with surface molecules that act as a Global Positioning System (GPS), transporting the chemotherapeutic drug to the brain, and (b) further capable of acquiring other GPS molecules, upon entering the brain, that guide the chemotherapeutic directly to GBM. Therefore, more chemotherapeutic molecules accumulate in the tumor and side effects are reduced.

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

I had three main aims in applying for an EACR Travel Fellowship. First, to foster the “bench-to-bed side” by providing a full in vivo validation of a novel GBM nanomedicine developed throughout the course of my PhD (last-step efficacy preclinical trial), that would become one step closer to industrial and clinical translation. Second, to establish a long-term collaboration with the host institution to help me to succeed in my cancer research career. I hoped that this visit might trigger future collaborative projects, joint publications, cooperative grant proposals, knowledge exchange, transfer of skills and techniques, presentations at open events, and networking. My third and final aim was centred on personal growth, as this Fellowship would provide me with an experience abroad that would broaden my personal horizons.

Why did you choose this host lab?

UCLouvain has up-to-date technologies for in vivo testing, as well as an extensive know-how in GBM rodent models. Advanced technologies required to perform the in vivo validation of the GBM nanomedicine developed throughout my PhD studies are exclusive of the host institution, namely a stereotactic headframe for orthotopic tumour inoculation/treatment administration, and a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system for evaluation of tumour progression. Moreover, the host institution supervisor, Prof. Véronique Préat, has extensive expertise on the preclinical validation of cancer nanomedicines in GBM rodent models.

“The EACR Travel Fellowship allowed me to overcome the fear, anxiety and stress of in vivo studies”

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

I was able to perform a preclinical efficacy trial of a novel GBM nanomedicine that I have developed throughout my PhD. The GBM nanomedicine is based on a targeted nano-chemotherapy, with capacity to (1) recognize blood-brain barrier transporters and, consequently, increase the blood-to-brain transport of chemotherapeutic molecules, and (2) once inside the brain parenchyma, guide the chemotherapeutic molecules directly to GBM tumour cells, thus boosting their cytotoxicity – these findings resulted from extensive in vitro studies performed before my research period at UCLouvain.

At UCLouvain, a GBM mice model was administered with the proposed targeted nano-chemotherapy, via intravenous route, and the efficacy of the treatment was evaluated in vivo. I was able to learn how to perform the tumour inoculation process (implantation of tumour cells into the brain of the mice model) using a stereotactic headframe (to assure precise coordinates of tumour implantation), follow tumour progression using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) system, monitor animal health upon tumour inoculation, inject the targeted nano-chemotherapeutic in the tail vein of mice, assemble survival plots, and analyse the tumours histologically.

Supervision team – from left to right: Dr. Alessio Malfanti (host institution laboratory mentor), Cláudia Martins, and Prof. Véronique Préat (host institution supervisor).

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

A joint research paper, reporting on data gathered during my visit, is currently being planned. Moreover, these data will be presented in key conferences in the field of cancer research over the next year. Finally, a collaborative project application between the two institutions is also under preparation and will be submitted soon.

What was a personal highlight of your trip?

The EACR Travel Fellowship allowed me to overcome the fear, anxiety and stress of in vivo studies. I was able to perform animal handling and monitoring, surgeries of brain tumour inoculation and treatment administration by myself, which were some of the worst nightmares I had before my trip! With the wonderful support of my research team at the host institution, I became independent in these tasks, and this personal obstacle was successfully surpassed.

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

I had the opportunity to be supervised by Prof. Véronique Préat, whose prestigious research group pioneered important advancements in the field of anti-cancer controlled release nanosystems to induce long-term survival in GBM-bearing animal models. 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 that I couldn’t gain in my home institution, thus improving my profile as a researcher.

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.