By Eli Synnøve VidhammerUpdated: 26.08.2022 (First published: 20.05.2022)
The symposium started off strong with a highly inspirational keynote talk by Robert S. Langer, founder of Moderna and considered the "Edison of Medicine". Langer shared his vast experience from a young scientist, through his first paper and first talk, the mentorship of Dr. Judah Folkman, the startup of his first company, overcoming skepticism and barriers and achieving great successes.
You can keep trying, or you could give up. I kept trying.
Robert S. Langer
He also gave CCBIO's young researchers the advice to have good mentors and role models, and go find them, if you don't have them. Either work for people who are good mentors or ask people who are more senior to you. Read more about Langer at CCBIO in this article. TV2 Nyhetene national TV visited the CCBIO Annual Symposium to interview Langer, see the TV2 news entry here.
Valuable input from Nordic colleagues
Olli Kallioniemi, Director of the SciLifeLab and Professor at Karolinska Institutet, presented real-time functional precision cancer medicine in acute myeloid leukemia, as opposed to DNA sequencing based efforts by the identification of oncogenic driver mutations. The SciLifeLab carries out comprehensive ex vivo drug efficacy testing on patient-derived cells along with omics profiling. The work has a strong translational perspective and is often carried out while the patient is in care, with the goal to provide the clinician with additional treatment options. Pancreatic cancer was covered by Malin Sund from the University of Helsinki and Umeå University, and Daniel Öhlund from Umeå University. Malin Sund gave an overview of the status of pancreatic cancer and high mortality rate worldwide, pointing out the importance of finding markers before diagnosis to improve mortality, illustrated by own research projects on novel prognostic markers. Daniel Öhlund highlighted the importance of understanding the tumor stroma and its complexity, and the need to understand the paracrine interactions in pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma - and how to block stromal interactions. Carina Strell from Uppsala University and also a new member in the CCBIO International Faculty recently awarded with a TMS starting grant, presented early breast cancer and development of progression and therapy resistance, showing different models for cancer evolution.
Broad scientific program
Breast cancer was also covered by Christine Desmedt from the Laboratory for Translational Breast Cancer Research (LTBCR), University of Leuven, Belgium with the talk "Unraveling disease progression and treatment resistance in patients with lobular breast cancer (ILC)." Here, she showed how correct diagnosis at the pathology level is crucial, and collaborative, international efforts are ongoing. Use of prognostic tests needs to be clarified for patients with ILC.
Cancer surgery needs to be precise, as showed by Gooitzen van Dam, professor of surgery, nuclear medicine and molecular imaging at the University of Groningen, Netherlands, as well as CEO & founder of TRACER. He showed their digestible drug delivery device, as well as intraoperative tumor-specific fluorescence imaging. Sébastien Wälchli showed interesting projects "from classic to modern CAR repertoire". He works at the Department of Cellular Therapy/Translational Research Unit at Oslo University Hospital, where he leads the development platforms for molecular biology of the T-cell receptor (TCR) and the Chimeric Antigen Receptor (CAR).
Srinivas Malladi from the UT Southwestern Medical Center and the Harold C. Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, USA showed important targetable dependencies of latent brain metastatic cells, and Rolf Brekken from UT Southwestern and a member of the CCBIO International Faculty reported on intriguing results of restoring sensitivity to immune checkpoint blockade through inhibition of AXL.
The last session of the symposium contained presentations from two excellent basic scientists addressing the issue of capturing the diversity of cancer in relevant experimental models for precision oncology. Matthias Nees from the University of Turku, Finland and University of Lublin, Poland shared from his experience on "benchmarking" of some of the most widely used ex vivo tumor models, including patient-derived organoids and explants, tissue-engineered models, and organ-on-chip approaches. Silvio Gutkind from Moores Cancer Center, University of California, San Diego took us thorough the challenges of head and neck cancer and the elegant approach his lab was using by employing a comprehensive kinome assay and a syngeneic mouse model to discover new, more efficient multimodal immunotherapeutic approaches for this type of cancer.
"Researchers in deep crisis"
A panel debate provided a slide-free session to allow for open discussion, by the panelists Marta Bertolaso, professor of philosophy of science at the University Campus Bio-Medico of Rome (UCBM) and a member of the CCBIO International Faculty, Anne Bremer, senior researcher at the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities at the University of Bergen, Domonique Chu, lecturer in Computer Science at the University of Kent with a special interest in the philosophy of complex systems and biology, and Bjørn Hofmann, professor at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology at Gjøvik and an adjunct professor at the Centre for medical ethics at the University of Oslo. Roger Strand chaired the session which celebrated an output from the CCBIO ELSA team, the new book Precision Oncology and Cancer Biomarkers: Issues at Stake and Matters of Concern, by editors Anne Bremer and Roger Strand, with chapter contributions from many of the people in the audience. This book can be purchased but is also in Open Access and can be downloaded for free. The panel was built around the ideas that are discussed in the book. Bjørn Hofmann gave an interesting review of the book, stating that it changes the way we look at cancer and disease, and summed up the content in a thought-provoking phrase: "You people (researchers) are in deep crisis!" This naturally paved the way for a healthy discussion.
Speed talks and poster sessions
The program gave ample time for young researchers through 3-minute speed talks, a format that proved successful in last year's digital version of the symposium and now continued both live and online, and a poster session each day, with a total of 14 speed talks and 49 posters. Each day, the audience could vote for best speed talk and best poster, with restrictions to one vote per IP address. Congratulations to the following:
Best posters day 1:
- Ole Vidhammer Bjørnstad (Akslen group) for the project Proteomic changes induced in co-cultures of breast cancer spheroids
- and neural progenitor cells
- Cara Wogsland (McCormack group) for the project Multidimensional analysis and high dimensional phenotyping of differential drug treatment in a patient derived xenograft (PDX) model of AML
Best posters day 2:
- Katrin Kleinmanns (Bjørge and McCormack groups) for the project Rethinking high-grade serous ovarian carcinoma: Development of new preclinical animal models for evaluation of image-guided surgery and immunotherapy
- Ridhima Das (Costea group) for the project Generating oral keratinocytes for regenerative therapy from induced pluripotent stem cells derived from adult human oral and skin fibroblasts
Best speed talks:
- Kristin Watnedal Olsen (Gjertsen group) for the talk Antibody-antigen binding kinetics in multiplexed epitope-competition assays
- Christiane Helgestad Gjerde (Bjørge and McCormack groups) for the talk Establishment of peritoneal dECM scaffolds for culture of ovarian cancer organoids
Energy of in-person interactions
The CCBIO Director Lars A. Akslen was very happy to greet the extended CCBIO family in-person again. “This was probably the best CCBIO Annual Symposium ever – with a strong and inspiring program covering a wide mix of topics” says Akslen. “The level of energy was amazing, and it was great to catch up again for the first time in this context since 2019. And it really felt good to “come home” to Solstrand. It was wonderful to be there,” Akslen concludes.
In his closing remarks, Roger Strand pointed out the overarching success factor for this year's symposium: it took place with in-person attendance! Strand reflected over CCBIO's catchphrase Capturing Cancer Complexity and that understanding the phenomenon of cancer is just as much about the people and society, with its different levels of reality and complex interactions. This is a continuous challenge in the years to come – for all of us.