Amira Mahdi, PhD. Student, University of Limerick

At the 2019 Irish Association of Cancer Research annual meeting, I was very grateful to be awarded an AOIFA Conference Award. This award gave me the opportunity this April to travel to Atlanta, USA and present my research at the American Association of Cancer Research Annual Meeting (AACR). The AACR is one of the biggest events in the global cancer research calendar and this year brought together over 20,000 scientists, clinicians, advocates, and survivors to discuss the future of the fight against the disease.

The scale of the conference was unbelievable and allowed me to experience a wider range of aspects of cancer research such as epidemiology, survivorship, bioinformatics, and the effects of health disparities on cancer. The opening address, with an appearance from Nobel Prize winner James P. Allison and numerous other legends in the cancer research field, was truly inspiring. Over the course of the week, I attended many plenary, mini-symposium, meet-the-expert and methods sessions. I really enjoyed a plenary session entitled: “Manipulating the Immune System in Cancer Therapy” as I was able to hear from two female cancer researchers whose careers and work I admire greatly (Padmanee Sharma and Judith A. Varner).

There were many talks of particular interest to my own research, including several on the role of the microenvironment in cancer progression. We attended a very useful, insightful and entertaining symposium called: “The Matrix Reloaded: Influences of the Extracellular Matrix on Tumor Progression” where I had the opportunity to hear from three excellent, engaging speakers and learn about techniques and results relevant to my project and the work in our lab at University of Limerick. As well as listening and learning about other’s research, attending the AACR also gave me the opportunity to disseminate my own research.

Presenting at such a large conference gave me the opportunity to meet and talk to many researchers who are working on similar types of projects. While presenting my poster I got invaluable feedback on my results as well as making a number of useful contacts for my future career and post-doctoral prospects. Despite the huge scale of the AACR annual meeting, there were many opportunities for networking especially among early career researchers like myself at the “Town Meeting” sessions. I attended two of these, Women in Cancer Research and the Tumour Microenvironment. These were smaller, more informal sessions with a reception afterward where we had a great opportunity to chat.

I really liked being able to talk about our work, our careers and even exchange twitter handles with fellow early career researchers from around the world. I am very thankful to AOIFA and the IACR for their support which allowed me to attend this meeting. Because of this award, I have gained important knowledge, contacts, experience, and inspiration that I have no doubt will benefit my research career in the years to come.