The incidence of cancer is growing alarmingly, with currently more than 3.5 million people affected in Europe.
Metastasis causes the vast majority of cancer-related deaths. It is usually resistant to conventional therapies and can lead to the failure of vital organs. Additionally, research on the evolution of metastases, from their establishment to treatment resistance, has so far been limited.
In this context, EVOMET (Deconstructing the Evolution of Metastasis) is an innovative programme coordinated by IRB Barcelona that seeks to unravel how metastases work.
Involving a consortium of 12 partners across 8 countries with cross-disciplinary expertise that covers the full spectrum of basic, translational and clinical research, EVOMET is training 15 PhD students in the cutting-edge science of metastasis progression.
To find out more about EVOMET, we spoke to Miloš Lazić and Diogo Soares, two talented young scientists currently doing their PhDs under this programme in the Growth Control and Cancer Metastasis laboratory, headed by Dr. Roger Gomis.
“Cancer touches everyone's lives…whether through your friends, your family, or your neighbours.”
Miloš (29), from Serbia, holds a Degree in Medicine and a Master's in Biological Drugs from the Faculty of Pharmacy in Biological Drugs at the University of Belgrade, while Diogo (32), who is from Portugal, has a BSc in Biology from Eastern Kentucky University and an MSc in Neuroscience from the University of Lisbon Faculty of Medicine.
Asked about his motivation to pursue cancer research, Miloš gives a heartfelt reply: “Cancer touches everyone's lives…whether through your friends, your family, or your neighbours.”
What makes EVOMET special?
“EVOMET focuses on metastasis. All the group leaders involved are at the top of their field. Dr. Gomis is one of the leaders in ER+ breast cancer research for example. EVOMET is collaborative and international. You can talk with leaders in their fields from different countries and different institutes and gain their insights. Also, it has a programme through which you can spend short secondments in other labs and learn how they do things and improve your knowledge,” says Miloš.
Miloš’s enthusiasm for how EVOMET is structured is also shared by Diogo. “My research is focused on ER+ breast cancer. I'm not looking at dormancy but at the initial mechanism by which tumour cells gain the ability to proliferate and metastasise while acquiring resistance to chemotherapy.
The project's inclusion in EVOMET was a great bonus as the consortium offers fantastic networking environments and training for PhD students. We have the opportunity to network with the leading experts in the field of cancer research, ongoing training, conferences, and meeting the next generation of aspiring young researchers,” he says.
The secondment programme: international, interdisciplinary and intersectoral
EVOMET is organised in such a way as to favour student mobility, allowing them to visit members of the consortium to strengthen their skill set.
Miloš spent two months last year in Dr. Mohamed Bentires-Alj's lab at the University of Basel, where he learnt more about working with human natural killer cells and about the immune system in the setting of his project. This year he will be spending two months in Dr. Clare Isacke's laboratory at the Institute for Cancer Research (ICR), in London. “She’s an amazing PI dedicated to building new talent and she’s also one of the leading names in ER+ breast cancer,” he says.
Along these lines, EVOMET has facilitated two secondments for Diogo. One with Dr. Clare Isacke at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR), where he gained further experience working with 3D organoid model of ER+ breast cancer and the other at ZS Associates in Copenhagen, where he received training in bioinformatic tools to analyse single-cell RNA sequencing data.
A strong PhD student dimension at IRB Barcelona
A PhD is one of the highest-level academic degrees. PhD degrees typically last 4 years during which students independently undertake original and significant research that makes a significant new contribution to knowledge in a given field, culminating in the writing and defence of a publication-worthy thesis.
IRB Barcelona is fully committed to training future generations of scientists in a range of fields in biomedical science.
To date, several hundred PhD students have passed through the doors of IRB Barcelona, and it is currently hosting 106, providing them with mentorship from its highly experienced senior researchers, and a stimulating training programme across a wide skill set.
“IRB Barcelona is a fantastic institute in which to do a PhD. There is a real sense of community among PhD students, which is very active organising meetings, events, and seminars for students. The Institute also organises weekly seminars with excellent speakers; all kinds of training opportunities; and outreach events. The diversity of topics tackled by distinct research groups also offers interesting opportunities to collaborate,” Diogo explains.
Critical networking opportunities: EVOMET Metastasis Conference, Brussels, November 2024
“We have an absolutely amazing line-up of speakers, including the very most leading experts in cancer metastasis. I expect the conference will attract great attention and will provide a great opportunity to communicate and share the latest research findings, and network with great minds,” says Diogo enthusiastically.
The next generation of experts in metastasis research
When asked about their future plans, Miloš and Diogo have clear goals. “I would like to pursue research in cancer metastasis in a clinical and/or industry setting. I aim to get closer and closer to patient treatments and thus that's where my focus will go,” says Diogo.
Miloš expresses his intention to remain in research. “If you´re lucky enough to make a huge discovery you make a frameshift and can bring about serious change,” he says.
EVOMET and future perspectives
Understanding metastasis and finding ways to control it is the ultimate goal as it will pave the way for therapies to cure cancer.
About IRB Barcelona
The Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) pursues a society free of disease. To this end, it conducts multidisciplinary research of excellence to offer pioneering solutions to unresolved medical needs in cancer and other diseases related to ageing. It establishes technology transfer agreements with the pharmaceutical industry and major hospitals to bring research results closer to society and organises a range of science outreach activities to engage the public in an open dialogue. IRB Barcelona is an international centre that hosts 400 employees and more than 30 nationalities. Recognised as a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence since 2011, IRB Barcelona is a CERCA centre and member of the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST).