Between January and March 2020, Jitske van den Bulk (PhD-student at Dept. of Pathology, Leiden University Medical Center, LUMC) visited the Medical University of Innsbruck (MUI). In the framework of the Eurolife grant, Jitske undertook a 3-month research activities on neoantigen-specific T cell responses using tumor organoid culture in the lab of Prof. Zlatko Trajanoski.
The grant of 7.500 euro was funded by the Directorate of Research Policy, LUMC. This research stay builds upon recent collaboration/exchanges between both research groups at LUMC and MUI: in April 2018, Prof. Trajanoski presented a Eurolife Distinguished Lecture at LUMC and in 2018 Noel de Miranda (LUMC, supervisor of Jitske) visited the lab of Prof. Trajanoski for three months (also supported by a Eurolife Scholarship).
Jitske’s PhD concerns the development of neoantigen-targeted therapies for low mutation burden colorectal cancer (CRC) patients. In order to investigate this, patient material is collected and T cell reactivity assays are performed. Jitske visited the Trajanoski Lab in order to extend the current CRC patient sample databases and to get instructed on culturing tumour organoids, which would create a great source of viable tumour material in the T cell reactivity assays.
Eurolife gave me the opportunity to go for three months to the Trajanoski lab in Innsbruck for a knowledge exchange on different laboratory techniques. An Eurolife Scholarship for Early Career Researchers of 7.500 euro was provided by Directorate of Research Policy (LUMC). Being half way in my PhD trajectory, this was an excellent way to get to know more peers in the field and experience the daily life at another country and institute. The group members of the Trajanoski lab in Innsbruck were all very welcoming and I felt quickly part of their team. While being introduced to culturing organoids from colorectal cancer patient material, I was instructing one of their PhD students on culturing T cells and performing subsequent reactivity experiments. Apart from the lab part, the Trajanoski group has a major focus on bioinformatics, a field which I am not familiar with at all. With the increasing number of ‘big data’ I foresee a future in our field though that cannot do without computing, and therefore, I started to follow some courses to grab at least the basic way of thinking. Moreover, my visit is part of a long-term collaboration between the research groups of Noel de Miranda (LUMC) and Zlatko Trajanoski (including several Eurolife-supported exchanges), so we have good connections now for any future data analysis in projects.
I experienced the city Innsbruck itself as small and nice, perhaps comparable to Leiden, but with excellent views on the mountains all around. As I always love being outside, I spent every single day of the weekends outside on my snowboard (another new skill I adopted during this exchange), even though climate change showed off here as well with a relatively warm winter (i.e. little snow). Unfortunately, I had to terminate the exchange some weeks earlier than expected due to the Covid-19 outbreak. We managed to go through most techniques already, so with some extra email contacts both parties should be able to start the techniques in the home institutes once the issues are calmed down again, thus luckily still a successful visit!