The summer of 2008 was exciting for many reasons – Usain Bolt smashed world records at the Beijing Olympics; the Spanish football team were victorious at Euro 2008; and EACR-20 was held in the beautiful city of Lyon! We caught up with a few EACR Meeting Bursary winners from that congress, to hear about their experiences and to see where their career paths have taken them over the past decade.
1. Maria M. Caffarel
Ikerbasque Research Fellow, Biodonostia Health Research Institute, San Sebastián, Spain
My work is focused on exploring new strategies for the treatment of breast cancer. I am particularly interested in understanding how the crosstalk between cancer and the surrounding stromal cells can mediate cancer progression.
I always knew that I wanted to be a scientist and I now feel very proud to spend my days fighting against cancer in the lab.
I had my PhD viva the day before I flew to Lyon for EACR-20! At the congress I met several people who gave me good advice about the postdoctoral stage, and with whom I have since collaborated. A few months later, I moved to the University of Cambridge where I worked for over five years as a Postdoctoral Fellow, and where my two daughters were born. I had the opportunity to do amazing science and I was able to identify new therapeutic targets for breast and cervical cancer. In 2015, I was awarded an Ikerbasque Fellowship which allowed me to start my independent research. I now work at Biodonostia Health Research Institute, where I lead a research line within the Molecular Oncology Group. Ten years after EACR-20 in Lyon, I feel very happy and honoured to be attending EACR25 as an EACR Ambassador, together with my two PhD students Angela and Andrea.
I am proud to be a cancer researcher because what I do may help to improve patients’ quality of life. I feel part of a huge community that is fully committed to doing something meaningful and useful for society. I always knew that I wanted to be a scientist and I now feel very proud to spend my days fighting against cancer in the lab. My dad died of metastatic colon cancer in 2016, and I think about him every day when I come to work – I hope that what we do will help cancer fighters like my dad, and will contribute to saving lives.
2. Thomas R. Geiger
Personalized Health Manager, University of Basel, Switzerland
I work as part of the management team for Personalized Health Basel, an initiative that seeks to pave the way for tailor-made prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases. My goal is to create a research environment that supports patient-centric research and enables rapid implementation of research findings in clinical care.
The EACR Congress is one of the top events in Europe to learn about the latest findings in cancer research, meet excellent scientists, and present your own research. As a PhD student in 2008, I needed to secure funds to get to the EACR-20 congress in Lyon. In addition to the financial support that enabled my attendance, I found that competing for the Meeting Bursary was good preparation for future research award and grant applications.
The shift from an active researcher to an ‘enabler’ of research has been very fulfilling!
I finished my PhD at the Netherland Cancer Institute in the same year as the EACR-20 congress, having investigated the oncogenic and metastatic functions of the TrkB receptor. I moved to the National Cancer Institute near Washington D.C. for a postdoc position, studying the influence of the genetic background on metastasis in breast cancer mouse models. I was offered a wide variety of training opportunities which included clinical research and project management, and at the end of my postdoc I decided to shift my career path in that direction. Returning to my native country, Switzerland, I worked as a project manager supporting clinical and translational research projects for lung and breast cancer. I am currently working at the University of Basel and manage activities surrounding the broad area of ‘personalized health’. The shift from an active researcher to an ‘enabler’ of research has been very fulfilling!
While my focus has widened, I greatly value my scientific background and enjoy serving the cancer research community. Significant advances in the molecular understanding of cancer have been made and diseases that were considered untreatable not long ago can in some cases now even be cured. The challenge ahead is to be able to access, integrate and make sense out of the enormous amounts of data that are being acquired. It is a daunting task, but I am confident that we will learn much about the mechanisms of cancer biology and will be able to improve human health.
3. Penelope Ottewell
Senior Lecturer in Cancer and Bone Metastasis, University of Sheffield, UK
My research team is focused on identifying how tumour cells change as they spread to the skeleton. We then target these changes with drugs to make new treatments for women with breast cancer.
feedback from other scientists helped strengthen my research ideas, culminating in me being awarded a prestigious international fellowship
In 2008 I was a junior postdoctoral research assistant at the University of Sheffield. I applied for an EACR-20 Meeting Bursary because I wanted the opportunity to present my research before putting in fellowship applications. EACR-20 delivered everything that I hoped it would: feedback from other scientists helped strengthen my research ideas, culminating in me being awarded a prestigious international fellowship in 2011. Around this time I had established novel immunocompetent and humanised models of spontaneous breast cancer bone metastasis, and the fellowship enabled me to use the models to identify novel molecules involved in driving different stages of the metastatic process. Through this work I was the first scientist to identify the link between tumour induced IL-1B and bone metastasis, and due to the success of this project I was awarded a lectureship in 2013. I have been awarded a number of international prizes, and was promoted to senior lecturer last year.
I am proud to be part of a community of scientists who strive to improve both quality of life and survival for cancer sufferers. With good quality research, I hope that we can enrich life for even more people.
4. Tiziana Triulzi
Researcher, Fondazione IRCCS Istituto Nazionale dei Tumori, Milan, Italy
I study the tumour microenvironment, looking at its role in the progression of breast carcinomas and their response to therapy. The main goals of my project are to find biomarkers that will help us stratify patients, and to discover targets for the development of new drugs.
I see it as the starting point of my career as a scientist.
Ten years ago I had just start working in the field of oncology research. I thought that participating in an international congress would help me both in my research and career. Attending EACR-20 in Lyon was really the first time that I understood what it means be a researcher and what goals should be pursued. I see it as the starting point of my career as a scientist.
Since 2008 I have got my PhD, and have been awarded several fellowships which gave me the opportunity to continue my research activities and start new ones. I began my own independent research a few years ago, and I am now the principal investigator for two research projects. I’m proud to be a cancer researcher because I love science and its challenges. I am happy to invest my work and my efforts to help in enlarging the knowledge in this field, with the final aim of seeing patients cured.
5. David Gallego Ortega
Group Leader, Garvan Institute of Medical Research, Sydney, Australia
My group studies mechanisms of tumour tolerance and progression driven by tumour-infiltrated myeloid cell populations, with the overarching aim of identifying novel molecular targets for the development of immunotherapies. Understanding the molecular mechanisms of the cancer-to-immune cell communication is essential for the development of a new generation of immunotherapies and opens the door for the extension of their benefit to breast cancer patients.
I found it reassuring to talk to peers in a similar situation and to hear from postdocs who had recently been in my position.
The EACR-20 Meeting Bursary gave me an opportunity to meet other researchers and open my scope for networking in an international environment. I finished my PhD in that very year of 2008, and at the stage of finishing the PhD and starting a postdoc there are lots of unknowns and questions about the next career step. I found it reassuring to talk to peers in a similar situation and to hear from postdocs who had recently been in my position.
I moved from Madrid to Sydney to begin a postdoc within a few months of the Lyon congress. I gained new skills in mouse models of mammary gland development and breast cancer, learning how developmental pathways go awry in cancer. After five years in postdoctoral positions, I was appointed Group Leader within the Kinghorn Cancer Centre at the Garvan Institute. Since then I have secured funding as a lead investigator to start a research program around my current career focus, tumour immunology. Over the last three years I have developed a strong interest in single-cell genomic approaches to investigate cancer progression, and I currently lead a small team of four people.
I like to think that what I am doing will benefit future generations, but I am particularly thrilled when I hear stories of how medical research has made a difference for someone in the short-term. It is really rewarding!
6. Anna P. Sokolenko
Senior Staff Researcher at the Department of Tumor Growth Biology, N.N. Petrov Institute of Oncology, St. Petersburg, Russia
My research is aimed to develop new molecular tests that would help to personalise cancer treatment. Those include tests for hereditary cancer diagnostics, identification of actionable alterations in tumours, and tools to detect circulating cancer cells.
it was inspiring, and convinced me that I had made the right choice in deciding to be a cancer researcher.
I was a PhD student in 2008, and the EACR-20 Meeting Bursary facilitated my first experience of a big international congress. It had the best lecturers and opinion leaders, ‘hot’ news from the cancer science frontline, excellent educational lectures, many young and committed researchers around – it was inspiring, and convinced me that I had made the right choice in deciding to be a cancer researcher.
My career has developed in quite a ‘traditional’ way. I completed a PhD in oncology in 2009, and I started to work as team leader soon after that. My first project aimed to identify new hereditary cancer genes. I am now a senior staff researcher at the N.N. Petrov Institute of Oncology, in the Department of Tumor Growth Biology. At the moment I am one of the principal investigators in a big five-year project looking at the biology and clinical features of BRCA1-associated cancers.