The Ludwig Oxford retreat took place on Monday 13th and Tuesday 14th June 2022 at the Belfry Hotel in Oxfordshire. The whole Branch came together in person for the first time since before the COVID-19 pandemic to engage with an exciting programme of talks.
Session 1 – Keynote talk and new groups overview
The day started with the keynote talk from Ludwig Oxford Visiting Professor of Cancer Epigenetics, Steve Baylin (Johns Hopkins University), on viruses, mitochondria, inflammation, ageing and the evolution of the cancer epigenome. He provided evidence for chronic inflammation being a major driver for tumourigenesis through the remodelling of epigenetic patterns and discussed the potential relevance of these findings to cancer prevention and therapy.
We then heard from the five newest members of the Branch. Yang Shi discussed the discovery and mechanistic-based studies with a clinical focus on cancer that are currently underway in his lab. His group are uncovering the underlying epigenetic mechanisms that can be exploited to treat cancer.
Following this, Parinaz Mehdipour, who joined the Branch as a Leadership Fellow in October 2021, introduced her new group’s research on epigenetic and epitranscriptomic regulation of anti-viral signaling in cancer and how they are aiming to turn these anti-viral responses against cancer.
Ludwig Oxford adjunct, Ellie Barnes gave an overview of the DeLIVER programme for the earlier detection of hepatocellular liver cancer, which involves several groups within Ludwig Oxford, including the incorporation of Chunxiao Song’s and Benjamin Schuster-Böckler’s TAPS DNA methylation detection technology.
Stefan Constantinescu, who joined the Oxford Branch in June 2021 while also retaining his position at his existing Ludwig laboratory in Brussels, talked about his work in myeloproliferative neoplasms. His group has studied the calreticulin chaperone proteins in these blood cancers, which are oncogenic when mutated, and their interactions with the thrombopoietin receptor.
Finishing the first session, Ludwig Oxford’s most recent recruit, Helen Byrne, spoke about using mathematical approaches to understand tumour heterogeneity. By describing and quantifying the patterns observed in the data, Helen’s group aims to identify new biomarkers that may assist in clinical decision-making and make predictions about how tissues may change with different treatments.
Session 2, Part 1 – Flash talks
After lunch, there was a series of flash talks from the more junior members of the Branch, with an award to be given for the best two talks. The speakers – one nominated from each of the 12 Ludwig groups ‒ were each allowed 4 minutes to explain their research, with a very strict time cut-off! We heard from Margarida Rei (Lu group), Alan Jiao (Shi group), Tammie Bishop (Ratcliffe group), Pakavarin Louphrasitthiphol (Goding group), Antonella D’Amore (Boccellato group), Laurine Noblecourt (Van den Eynde group), Masato Inoue (Song group), Magdalena Drozdz (Schuster-Böckler group), Michael McClellan (Kriaucionis group), Rory Peters (Barnes group), Lucija Fleisinger (De Val group) and Lewis Marsh (Byrne group).
Session 2, Part 2 – Insights into scientific publishing
We were lucky to be joined by senior editors from two high-profile scientific journals. Following an introduction into how to publish a paper from Colin Goding, including some of the common mistakes and tips for success, Barbara Marte, a senior editor at Nature, took us behind the scenes of scientific publishing. She explained her role and what she looked out for when selecting which manuscripts should proceed through the publishing pipeline. Steve Mao, Editor-in-Chief at Cancer Cell, talked about the publishing process at Cancer Cell and how mechanistic studies, as well as clinical research, were important for answering important questions relevant to cancer.
The day finished with a lively poster session featuring 39 poster presentations from the Branch’s students and post-doctoral researchers and an opportunity to view the ‘Science Meets Art’ public engagement competition entries, before the Institute dinner, quiz and party.
Session 3 – Ludwig Oxford groups overview
In the morning session of the second day, Ludwig Oxford adjunct Sarah De Val used the opportunity to highlight the University’s commitment to the Concordat to Support the Career Development of Researchers.
The remaining Ludwig Oxford group leaders then shared the latest developments in their group’s research. Peter Ratcliffe discussed hypoxia signalling in cancer and how all eukaryotic organisms use an enzyme-based oxygen sensor linked to proteolysis, touching on his research on the human ADO enzyme which has conserved counterparts in plants.
Colin Goding focused his talk on phenotypic heterogeneity in cancer as a driver of switching in response to stress, with particular reference to the role and regulation of the Microphthalmia-associated Transcription Factor, MITF, in melanoma.
Benoit Van den Eynde gave an update on the trial of his group’s novel cancer vaccine called VTP-600 in non-small cell lung cancer. The vaccine against cancer antigens, MAGE-A3 and NY-ESO-1, has now been given to the first patients in the trial with the aim of improving anti-PD-1 cancer immunotherapy.
Skirmantas Kriaucionis presented an overview of the projects in his group on epigenetic mechanisms, including research into the effects of 5-hydroxymethylcytosine on transcription. Continuing the epigenetic theme, Chunxiao Song gave an introduction to his TAPS method for simultaneous genetic and epigenetic (DNA methylation) analysis. He shared his latest data on detecting liver and pancreatic cancers using DNA shed into the bloodstream. Benjamin Schuster-Böckler outlined his group’s strategy of basic science, methodology development and translational work to address the overarching question of how cancer-causing mutations occur.
Leadership Fellow, Francesco Boccellato argued that understanding the body’s response to chronic Helicobacter pylori infection could be an important strategy for stomach cancer prevention. His group uses the advanced ‘mucosoid’ models of the stomach lining to study inflammatory and other responses upon H. pylori infection. Returning to the Branch, former Leadership Fellow Pedro Moura Alves, who moved his group to Porto, Portugal, in February 2022, ran through the aims of his group investigating the role of the aryl hydrocarbon receptor (AhR) in infection and cancer.
Ending the session, Ludwig Oxford Director Xin Lu gave a talk on cellular plasticity in upper gastrointestinal cancers, including her group’s investigation of the molecular switches involved in plasticity and the ex vivo models they employ.
In her closing remarks, Xin Lu reflected on the recent successes of the Branch and thanked the support team for their endeavours in keeping the research running during several lockdowns. The guest speakers Steve Baylin, Barbara Marte and Steve Mao were particularly thanked for their contribution to the retreat and the retreat awards were given. Congratulations to: Tammie Bishop (Ratcliffe group) and Rory Peters (Barnes group) who were awarded prizes for their flash talks; this year’s poster prize winners Alan Jiao (Shi group) and Lucija Fleisinger (De Val group); the best contributors, Michael McClellan (Kriaucionis lab) and Pakavarin Louphrasitthiphol (Goding group); and Sudipta Ghosh (Shi group) for winning the ‘Science Meets Art’ competition with his entry, ‘Hope Among Chaos’.
Thank you to the organising committee: Yang Shi, Francesco Boccellato, Carol Leung and Marie-Laure Foisneau-Bates.