Sabrina Vallone is a PhD student at IFIBYNE in Argentina who received an EACR Travel Fellowship to visit and work at CNIC in Spain between September and December 2023.

The EACR is supported by Worldwide Cancer Research to provide 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: Sabrina Vallone
Job title: PhD student
Home institute: IFIBYNE, Argentina
Host institute: CNIC, Spain
Dates of visit: 05 September – 08 December 2023
Research: My current research is focused on the study of tumour microenvironment on breast cancer progression. To better understand the complexity of cancer, it is important to study the cells and tissues that surround the tumour (the microenvironment) since it is known that has a major effect on the progression of the tumour. I’m studying specific molecules that tumour cells can release and could impact other types of cells to dissect how this communication works. In the future, this kind of investigation could be the base for developing better therapies that target both tumours and the microenvironment.

How did you choose the host lab?

My group and the host lab interacted in different meetings and from that, we started to think about working on a project together. Two years ago, I traveled to the host lab for the first time to start the collaborative work and we obtained amazing results came out. The EACR Travel Fellowship allowed me to travel once again and consolidate the work between the two groups, improving the workflow dynamics and the communication of ideas, making the most out of the groups’ collaboration.

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

During my visit, I studied the communication between breast cancer cells and different cells present in the breast microenvironment. To do that, I learned to carry out indirect co-culture experiments and found that this interaction favours an immature phenotype on adipocyte cells. As a consequence of this communication, the cancer cells modify their metabolic state and switch between glycolysis and mitochondrial respiration, for which I learned to use different techniques to measure the energetic metabolism of the cell.

“Her dedication to mentoring was something to highlight on my trip”

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

On my trip I could study the mitochondrial respiration of breast cancer cells, and how it is affected by co-culturing them with different cells of the breast microenvironment. This kind of analysis occurs in a specific piece of equipment (Agilent Seahorse XF) that is not at my home lab. With this technique, I learned a lot about how to study cell metabolism.

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

Even though I worked with a group of fellows, I particularly received the support of one senior postdoc, who mentored me in the design of experiments and taught me new techniques. She also trained me to use new models, such as primary cultures and mature adipocytes on culture and indeed she helped me to improve my presentations for labmeetings. Her dedication to mentoring was something to highlight on my trip and it was amazing to work with her. I also had great talks with my host supervisor about my career which helped me a lot to start to define my next steps in science. Her vision about publishing papers nowadays when it’s harder every time and how to establish your group been a women investigator in an institute with man investigators was invaluable to me.

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

We definitely will continue collaborating with the host lab and almost sure will publish together. Now we have to go deep into the results that I produced on this trip and define the experiments to continue. The host lab is highly committed to the project and several people in the group are already working with me to move forward with it.

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.