With a new record of participants, the 4th Essen Translational Oncology Symposium (ETOS) was held as a virtual meeting on 18th February. We and other scientist from Essen, Düsseldorf and Münster showed our current research in talks or discussed projects and ideas in six poster sessions in virtual poster rooms.
At the end of a full day of interesting cancer research, this year’s ETOS Trophy was awarded to our KFO_337 PhD student Vivien Ullrich. She presented her project “Discovery of disease-driving tumor subclones in glioblastoma” in a talk. Congratulations to Vivien!
There are almost as many women as men working in our CRU PhenoTImE and our members come from all over the world. Therefore, we think that we are open-minded and unbiased. And yet the workshop „Gender in life sciences“, which PhenoTImE organized together with the Essen College of Gender Research (Essener Kolleg für Geschlechterforschung, EKfG) and in collaboration with Prof. Dr. Anke Hinney (Vice Dean for Young Researchers and Diversity), and PD Dr. Andrea Kindler-Röhrborn (head of the working group Molecular Genetic Tumor Prevention) was able to show us that this is not completely true as we all are strongly influenced, even quite unconsciously, by our socio-cultural environment. This general social phenomenon also affects us in our work as scientists. Although we know about the influence of biological sex as well as social and ethnic origin on the course of a disease, we rarely focus on these aspects in our basic biomedical research or clinical medicine. The one-day workshop not only gave us an understanding of the conceptual differences between sex and gender. It also raised our awareness of how complex this topic actually is and that we should always keep it in mind while planning our experiments instead of neglecting it as completely new and significant insights might emerge.
On 28th of October, Matthias Kloor from Heidelberg University Hospital gave a great and very instructive talk about the Lynch syndrome which is one of the most common hereditary tumor diseases of the gastrointestinal tract. One hallmark of Lynch syndrome is a DNA mismatch repair (MMR) deficiency, leading to the accumulation of microsatellite mutations in cancer cells. Mutations of coding microsatellites in turn result in the generation of frameshift peptides. In a first trial these immunogenic neoantigens turned out to be perfect vaccine candidates as they were systemically well tolerated and consistently induced humoral and cellular immune responses in the patients (see also Clin Cancer Res. 2020 Sep 1;26(17):4503-4510). We are looking forward to the next study on this promising novel approach for treatment of MMR-deficient cancer!
These are hard times. Many people have been thrown from their usual and busy routine to a life of reclusion and social distancing. From their office jobs with their colleagues to the brand new and lonely “home-working” with their house pets and plants. These people have been the lucky ones, and I am one of them.
But is it possible to conduct biologic scientific research from home? To answer this question, you need to know that as young scientists, we always have some data to analyse, hidden in a forgotten folder of our computer. The literature to read is endless (searching for “phenotypic plasticity” on PubMed, you get 149330 results), so that’s also not a problem. And hopefully, we could also have some new idea and finally time to design future projects and experiments. With just an internet connection, a webcam and a microphone, we were even able to take part in international meetings and to present our results to our colleagues (see the attached picture).
So, was everything fine? Not really. Because at some point, we also want to test our new hypotheses. We need to go to the lab, to do some “real” work, to get our hands dirty (just in a figurative way, we always use gloves). Luckily, this was the case. After around one month of “home-working”, we have been able to slowly come back to the lab, doing shifts, working also at the weekends and respecting all the safety rules, face mask and distancing in first and foremost. Now we can say that we are back at operating speed, and all the time spent studying and planning will bear fruit.
During this crisis, many labs paused their ongoing research to study aspects of SARS-CoV-2 to help in this way those who are suffering the most from this situation. We just have to thank them for their choice and contribution. Though, we don’t have to forget that going on with the “basic” research is also important and that we are altogether connected by the same purpose: try to help the people who are suffering.
Due to the Corona Pandemic, our workshop for „Patients as Research Partners“, planned for March, could unfortunately not take place. We really had been looking forward to meeting patients, patient advocates and other interested persons to discuss various topics of clinical research. We as scientists and physicians wanted to learn how the active participation of patients can improve our research and what needs and expectations cancer patients have of us.
Instead, we have now created a webinar with interesting presentations and hope that this will be the prelude to a personal meeting soon. The webinar series is constantly being expanded and is open to all – just visit our PhenoTImE Webinar
In February, two of us PhenoTImE young scientists took the opportunity to take part in a Good Scientific Practice Workshop organized by the Graduate Center Plus of the University Duisburg-Essen. We and other young researchers from different disciplines learned more about the local, national and international guidelines of good scientific practice and scientific misconduct. On the basis of case studies we discussed how to proper plan and perform experiments and how to collect and store data. In addition, we learned how to deal with authorships and publication ethics and who to turn to in case of an incident (an information that hopefully we will never need!).
On 12th of December, Per Thor Straten, Director of the Centre for Cancer Immunotherapy (CCIT) and Professor at the University of Copenhagen gave a highly stimulating and comprehensive talk about the role of TAM receptors in the tumour microenvironment. These receptor tyrosine kinases are not only expressed on macrophages and T cells but also on cancer cells and are relevant for tissue repair and clearing of apototic cells. Due to their versatile features, the idea of using TAM as drug targets in cancer is obvious. However, as Professor Straten´s work shows, the development of TAM inhibitors should be carried out with caution.
Additionally, the audience learned that in mice exercise leads to an increase of immune cells infiltrating into tumours. A study starting in January 2020 will test whether doing sports is also in humans a cheap tool to improve the efficiency of immunotherapy. No matter what results will come out: physical exercise is good for your health, so go in for sports!
On the 4th and 5th of November, the annual retreat of the Graduate School of Biomedical Science (BIOME) took place in Bonn. As first year PhD students we had the opportunity to present and discuss our PhenoTImE projects in a poster session. We got valuable feedback not only from other PhD students but also from the scientific jurors. In addition, we gained insights into exciting topics like cell plasticity in metastasis, neutrophil extracellular traps, and macrophages from the notable guest speakers PD Dr. Marc Stemmler, Prof. Dr. Arturo Zychlinsky, and Prof. Dr. Christian Pallasch.
In September two of us attended the annual meeting of the association of dermatooncology (ADO) and the affiliated junior scientist retreat in Heidelberg and Ludwigshafen. This event was an ideal platform to present our PhenoTImE projects to an audience keen to disscuss and to exchange ideas not only with fellow junior scientists but also with experts.
The indisputable highlight of the meeting, however, was the inspiring talk by Nobelprize winner Stefan Hell about his personal experiences in science with all its ups and downs. Afterwards, a small group had the opportunity for a personal conversation with this exceptional and self-ironic scientist. His most important advice left a deep impression: Always do, what brings you joy (“Tue das, was Dir Spaß macht”).