Travel Grant winners from ‘Cellular Bases for Patient Response to Conventional Cancer Therapies’: “It’s boosted my excitement for a future career in cancer research”

We met in Berlin, Germany for the EACR Conference on Cellular Bases for Patient Response to Conventional Cancer Therapies in November 2022, and were delighted to award a number of EACR-Worldwide Cancer Research Travel Grants to student and early career EACR members and cancer researchers in low or middle-income economy countries.

Travel Grants support researchers who need financial assistance to attend the conference and present their work as an oral or poster presentation. Each Travel Grant includes a free registration and funds to support travel and accommodation costs.

You can read below about the experiences that some of the winners had at these events.

Take a look at upcoming conferences here:

1Lyndsey Flanagan

PhD student, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland, Ireland

Research: Multiple Myeloma (MM) is a cancer of the antibody-producing cells in our body. BCL-2 is an anti-death protein that can stop MM cells from dying. A drug, venetoclax, kills cells that are reliant on BCL-2 for survival. Unfortunately, venetoclax works in a small subpopulation of MM patients. Our aim was to find a drug that would help venetoclax work better. We found an epigenetic drug, which can switch genes on and off, called 5-azacytidine makes venetoclax work better. Our hope is that this new combination will work to ensure a longer treatment response in MM patients.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

A personal highlight was being selected to showcase my research in the poster spotlight session. In this session the speakers had 3 minutes to give an overview of their research. I enjoyed this session as it made me think outside of the box and learn how to showcase the key points of my research using schematics. It was a great learning opportunity and I enjoyed engaging in interesting and thought-provoking discussions at my poster after the session.

Were there any social or networking highlights you’d like to tell us about?

The ‘Meet the Experts’ session with Prof. Maria Rescigno and Prof. Jos Jonkers was a thoroughly enjoyable and engaging session. Prof. Maria Rescigno discussed her career path in science and how not everything had always gone to plan, however, when one door closes another one opens. As I head into the final year of my PhD, I’m faced with uncertainty about how my future career will pan out. This was an important session for early career researchers, as it was encouraging to know that the uncertainty is completely normal and common.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

I began my Breakthrough Cancer funded PhD scholarship amid the COVID19 pandemic in September 2020. All in-person conferences had to use a virtual platform. While this allowed me to watch interesting talks and learn from leading experts in the field, it was difficult to network and engage with other researchers through the virtual platforms. This conference was my first international conference, and it was enjoyable from start to finish, with an incredible line-up of speakers and ample opportunities for networking and establishing connections with colleagues.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention?

I had the pleasure of meeting Prof. Anthony Letai from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, for the first time in person. Prof. Letai is an expert in cancer research and apoptosis, and a leader in the field of BH3 profiling and BH3 mimetics. A key technique used in my research is BH3 profiling and it was a great opportunity to meet the expert behind the technique.

2Olivia Ciampa

PhD Student, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Australia

Research: 75% of breast cancer cases are estrogen receptor positive (ER+). Despite the development of ER targeted therapies, 1/3 of treated patients will develop resistant, aggressive disease. The need for alternative therapeutic strategies is critical to overcome mechanisms of drug-resistance. A critical mechanism of drug-resistance remains: the senescence response, a ‘rest’ state that drugs induce, protecting cells from unrestrained growth. However, breast cancer cells turn off these rest-state mechanisms. My research aims to uncover pivotal senescence switches which modulate resistance to the current ER targeted therapies and highlight senescence-modulating compounds to overcome drug-resistance and eradicate aggressive breast cancer cells.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

My personal highlight of the conference was the interactions with cancer researchers in fields similar to mine. The conference covered many crucial topics pertaining to breast cancer research. Key speakers in the breast cancer field included Jason Carroll and Cathrin Brisken, who I also had the opportunity to meet and discuss with about my project. This allowed me to consider future experimental directions and gain insight into my project, which was most advantageous to my research.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

This was my first international conference I had attended and that alone was an incredible opportunity and very different from attending conferences in Australia (my home). I was also given the incredible opportunity to present my research (which was also my first time presenting at a conference). Allowing me to gain exposure for my work and gain insights most advantageous to my research. On top of this, I got more networking opportunities than conferences I had previously attended. The selective research topics and their respective researchers allowed me to interact with many cancer researchers from fields similar to mine.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

As an early career researcher, attending this conference has given me much more confidence in my presenting capabilities, something that has been limited due to COVID-19 for the majority of my PhD career. Given the opportunity to present and expose my work, and interact with many supportive cancer research professionals, has boosted my excitement for a future career in cancer research as a post-doc Europe.

When you got home, was there anything from the conference that you immediately wanted to tell your colleagues about?

When I returned home to Australia, I immediately told my colleagues about the amazing networking opportunities that I got with attending the conference. Networking with like-minded researchers allowed me to gain crucial insights into my ongoing work and create connections for the future.

3Rhona Christie

PhD student, University of Aberdeen, UK

Research: Bladder cancer varies in occurrence and severity in the global population. Men are about three times more likely to develop it than women, yet more aggressive forms of bladder cancer are more commonly found in women. It’s thought that the hormone testosterone might play a part in this. My research is looking at the relationship between the receptor for testosterone signalling, the androgen receptor, and the way bladder cancer cells react to chemotherapy. I’m studying this using human cells I grow in the laboratory alongside image analysis of real patient cancer samples.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

Participating in my first in-person poster session was wonderful. Getting to articulate my research ideas to invited speakers who could provide immediate feedback on them was very helpful and encouraging. I believe this sort of scientific dialogue will also help prepare me for my upcoming viva examination.

Were there any social or networking highlights you want to tell us about?

As an early career researcher, it was very helpful to talk with both direct peers and more experienced researchers. The conference seemed to foster a very friendly atmosphere where it was not as difficult to approach invited speakers and initiate conversations. I particularly made strong connections with two other PhD students who I then attended the conference dinner with and have continued to socialise with since the conference.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

This conference was the first one I have had the chance to attend in-person, due to the Covid pandemic. A difference I noted at this conference, when compared to a virtually held conference “in” the UK, was the great emphasis placed on collaboration. Whether this was between institutes nationally or internationally, there were many discussions of the importance of sharing research insights and experimental protocols. I found this very encouraging as I believe this fosters an environment where knowledge is shared, and better-quality science can be done.

Did you take part in any interesting local or cultural activities in your free time outside of the conference?

I had the opportunity to explore Berlin the day after the conference, so I spent a lot of time on the tourist buses learning about the city. I was very glad I did this as Berlin is so expansive and this was the first time I had been, so I gained a much more detailed impression of some of the major historical periods the city has endured.

Have you brought back any specific knowledge that has benefited your research?

There were several talks covering cellular response to DNA damage that I found highly relevant to some of my recent experiments. As the conference continued, I linked some specific proteins mentioned to my own protein of interest and discussed these ideas with some invited speakers at the coffee breaks. Since the conference, I have been investigating expression levels of p21 in my extracted samples, which is giving me insight into the cellular response to cisplatin in my cell line.

4Rhynelle Dmello

PhD student, Olivia Newton-John Cancer Research Institute, Melbourne, Australia

Research: My research focuses on how inflammatory pathways drive tumour progression and I use my understanding of cell signalling pathways in cancer cells to identify and test novel treatment combinations for colorectal cancer.

What was a personal highlight of the conference for you?

Two personal highlight were interacting with researchers from all over the world during the poster and networking session, and also the discussion on career progression.

How was this conference different from others you have attended?

The conference was very interactive. The speakers not only told us about their research, but initiated scientific discussions during question time which the audience actively participated in.

Did you take part in any interesting local or cultural activities in your free time outside of the conference?

I visited a the Sachsenhausen concentration camp just outside of Berlin during my free time at the conference which was a very interesting historical experience. I also explored the city and enjoyed visiting the museum island.

How has the conference inspired you in your research?

The conference was about a very specific topic which directly helped me package ideas and concepts into my thesis. I enjoyed hearing a different perspective about understanding the efficacy of chemotherapy treatments and how we can better enhance their efficacy from Prof. Antony Letai (Harvard University).

Interested in EACR Conferences?

We organise a variety of excellent cancer research conferences, both in person and virtual, where the latest research topics and interaction for participants are the very highest priorities.

Make sure you add the dates of upcoming EACR Conferences to your diary now. Don’t forget we offer EACR member discounts on all of our registration fees!