ATTENDANCE AT THE 2019 AMERICAN ASSOCIATION OF CANCER RESEARCH ANNUAL MEETING
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.
FROM CANCER THERAPY TO SURVIVORSHIP
A shared platform for patients, researchers and clinicians
The Irish Association for Cancer Research (IACR) is an all-Ireland, non-profit organisation which brings together cancer researchers and healthcare professionals from all disciplines to share their expertise. The ultimate goal of the IACR is to improve the patient journey from diagnosis, through treatment, and through the lived experience of cancer. The IACR annual meeting is the key cancer research event in Ireland. In its 55th year, the annual conference was held in Belfast from Wednesday 20th to Friday 22 February 2019.
It was an amazing three-day event showcasing the exceptional cancer research being undertaken across the island of Ireland and beyond. The conference opened with a public event in honour of the late Professor Patrick (Paddy) G. Johnston from Queen’s University Belfast (QUB), where early-stage cancer researchers gave overviews of their research to a public forum. During the three days, national and internationally acclaimed speakers showcased the latest advances in the field of cancer research spanning from conventional treatments to more innovative approaches. Great emphasis was also given to the lived experience of patients with cancer and patients’ quality of life after treatment.
Combination therapies; novel strategies for cancer treatment
The excellent scientific sessions, which encompassed national and international renowned speakers, were linked by the theme of ‘combination therapies’. While conventional cancer treatments such as surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy have been used in combination for decades in an effort to treat cancer patients, the emergence of novel fields of cancer research have led to a renewed interest in combining conventional treatments with more innovative approaches. The realisation that cancer progression is not exclusively due to changes in the cancer cells, but also involves changes in the tumour surroundings as well as in the immune system, has opened new avenues for combination treatments.
Several examples of novel treatment strategies and novel treatment combinations were presented at the 55TH IACR Conference including immune metabolism, epigenetic therapies and physical exercise. For example, the positive effect of physical exercise in combination with conventional therapies as cancer management, at all stages of the lived experience with cancer was highlighted. In addition, novel technologies such as digital pathology and precision medicine, which will help to better tailor treatments to individual patients, were presented.
Patient and public involvement at the 55TH IACR Annual Conference
This year’s conference was opened by the first public event at an IACR Conference: ‘The Professor Patrick Johnston IACR Award for Excellence in Cancer Research Outreach‘. This award was designed to encourage early-stage researchers to engage with the general public to talk about and share their research. Six finalists were selected by a patient/researcher panel among 37 applicants who submitted a lay abstract of their work in advance of the annual conference. They had the hard task of presenting their research to the general public, including secondary school pupils.
A judging panel and the audience then voted for the most accessible presentation. The great success of this public session was in no small part due to a public engagement workshop held two weeks before the IACR meeting. During this workshop, researchers paired with patient mentors worked together to make science communication more accessible to the general public. While clinicians have regular meetings with cancer patients, cancer researchers very rarely have the opportunity to meet them. At the same time, cancer research might seem something difficult to grasp for the general public including patients.
This workshop was a great occasion for patients and researchers to meet and talk to each other. After a few exercises to “break the ice” including explaining their research projects in a 10 second sentence as if speaking to a 999 emergency call scenario, the patient/researcher pairs worked together to build a story around the research projects. This was a very useful exercise for all involved, especially for the early-stage researchers who learnt to look at the bigger picture and to value what really matters in describing clearly their research to patients and the general public.
We are now looking forward to the 56TH Annual Conference which will be a Joint European Association for Cancer Research (EACR) & IACR conference. We hope to see you in Galway from Wednesday 26th to Friday 28th of February 2020!
I was honoured to be awarded the EACR Young Scientist (Junior Category) Award at the Irish Association of Cancer Research Annual meeting in February 2018. As a result I received free registration to The 25th Biennial Congress of the European Association for Cancer Research which celebrated the EACR’s 50th Anniversary Year. This landmark Congress took place in the RAI Convention Centre in Amsterdam, from 30 June to 3 July 2018.
The EACR Congress brings together 1,800 basic, preclinical and translational researchers from across the full breadth of research fields, providing an excellent opportunity to interact with fellow cancer researchers and even form new collaborations. I was lucky enough to be selected to present my research in a poster form at the meeting.
During my allotted time I was visited by a number of researchers from across Europe. This provided a wonderful opportunity for me to both discuss and evaluate my research. With the exchange of emails and new ideas for experiments, I was eager to return to the lab and explore my project further after this session!
In addition to presenting my work at the conference I attended a number of excellent talks from an array of internationally acclaimed invited speakers. The theme of the Congress was ‘From Fundamental Insight to Rational Cancer Treatment’, covering the journey of discovery and development ‘from bench to bedside’.
As a translational cancer research, I was delighted that the Congress covered focused on this area. In particular I eager to attend the Mike Price Gold Medal Award Lecture entitled ‘How does p53 impact cancer development? Let me count the ways’’ by Prof Karen Vousden, Chief Scientist at CRUK and Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute.
Professor Vousden’s research focuses on the tumour suppressor protein p53, which was the protein of interest for my doctoral studies. Prof Vousden’s presentation did not disappoint and as the final talk of the meeting, it finished the EACR Congress on a high for me.
Overall, I found the meeting highly informative, with a diverse group of attendees who are friendly, eager to discuss their work and proud cancer researchers. I am grateful to now be part of the EACR community and I look forward to EACR 2020!
Dr Martin Barr is a Clinical Scientist & Adjunct Assistant Professor, St James’s Hospital & Trinity College Dublin
The 25th Biennial Congress of the European Association for Cancer Research (EACR25) celebrated its 50th Anniversary this year which was held at the RAI in Amsterdam from June 30th to July 3rd 2018. Thanks to both the EACR and the IACR, I was honoured to be able to attend this conference as part of my EACR Young Scientist Award.
With the theme ‘From Fundamental Insight to Rational Cancer Treatment’, the congress featured world-class speakers discussing the most innovative current research topics and included a special one-day educational programme ‘Cancer Science for Oncologists’. This consisted of 8 specialized lectures aimed at those working in the field of cancer research, particularly those working as Oncologists or medical practitioners in the cancer space. In addition to the high-profile plenary sessions, the programme offered parallel symposia, allowing participants to build their own scientific programme according to their own specific interests.
One of the key themes of the conference that was of significant interest to my own research was the ‘liquid biopsy’ which was covered extensively between the various sessions. Professor Caroline Dive from Cancer Research UK & the Christie Hospital in Manchester spoke on several occasions on their current strategies and technologies in developing the liquid biopsy as a means to hunting cancer cells that have broken free from tumours and are circulating in the bloodstream in the context of both NSCLC and SCLC. Developing simple blood tests to capture cancer cells could help researchers understand how lung cancer changes as it grows and spreads, and how it can become resistant to treatment.
In turn, this will open up opportunities to develop new therapies to treat this deadly disease more effectively. As an EACR25 participant, there were many opportunities for interacting with other delegates from across Europe through the various workshops, dedicated networking sessions and social events. Moreover, this interaction was further enhanced during my poster presentation allowing me to initiate new collaborations and receive feedback on my research on DNA repair in NSCLC. One particular highlight of the conference opening was the humorous (yet very true!) portrayal of ‘Love and fear in the lab’ by Professor Uri Alon from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel who delivered a talk, on guitar, about the emotional and subjective side of choosing science as a career!
During the course of the conference, a number of plenary talks were delivered by various European investigators leading innovative and discovery cancer research programmes at their relevant Institutions. Professor Karen Vousden, Cancer Research UK’s Chief Scientist and a Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute was this year’s recipient of the Mike Price Gold Medal Award, a biennial award recognizing a senior researcher who has made exceptional contributions to the progress of cancer research in Europe. She presented some of their novel findings in relation to the regulation of tumour suppressor gene p53 and novel targeted treatments that are currently being developed as novel cancer treatments.
The Pezcoller Foundation-EACR Cancer Researcher Award Lecture was delivered by Professor Jan Korbel, EMBL, Germany who presented work from the Korbel laboratory demonstrating how combining experimental and computational approaches, including single-cell sequencing technology, can be used to unravel determinants and consequences of germline and somatic genetic variation. Professor Korbel and his group are among the pioneers in the utilization of cloud computing to enable sharing and processing of largescale omics data.
The end of this enlightening and successful conference was marked by the EACR 50th Anniversary & Congress Dinner, where the very impressive National Maritime Museum marked the setting for this cultural and social event. A great evening was had among fellow European and Irish cancer researchers, including our very own IACR President, Professor Amanda McCann.
Irish Association for Cancer Research (IACR) is a registered charity on the Register of Charitable Organisations, Charities Regulator, 3 George's Dock, IFSC, Dublin 1, D01 X5X0, Ireland.
Registered Charity Number (RCN): 20030117.
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