2022 International Conference of the Pancreatic Cancer Research  Centers Germany 29th May – 1st June

by Tamara Isermann and Laura Urbach 

From May 29 to June 1 2022, the SFB 1321 in Munich organized the first annual International Conference of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Centers Germany. Research groups from all around the world were invited to share their ongoing research and recent findings. Before the conference itself started, young career scientists were invited to share their findings among themselves in a Young Scientist Symposium, which itself was organized by early careers researchers from SFB 1321, GRK 2751, KFO 325, and KFO 5002. Here is a report on the conference by two of the attendees: Tamara Isermann and Laura Urbach of the KFO 5002.

On Monday morning, we met the other on-site participants of the conference at the TranslaTUM, where a shuttle bus was waiting to bring us to Schloss Hohenkammer. At 10 am, the Young Scientist Symposium started, with Laura Urbach being one of the chairs. The entire conference and Young Scientist Symposium were held in hybrid form, with the speakers attending in person and other people from around the world being able to attend virtually. Huge thanks to SFB1321 for setting up this amazing event and enabling us to get an insight into the current research of our colleagues without any fees. The young scientist symposium was comprised of eight short talks from the four pancreatic cancer centers in Germany: Marburg, Munich, Halle, and Göttingen. Karly Conrads and Tamara Isermann represented the Göttingen KFO5002 by presenting their own research. The talks covered a wide variety of pancreatic cancer related topics, ranging from basic pancreatic cancer research or the impact of the tumor-immune-microenvironment to disease modeling and complex imaging techniques, all of which were extremely insightful.

In the afternoon, the official International Conference of the Pancreatic Cancer Research Centers Germany commenced with the first session. This session mainly focused on innovative and emerging treatment strategies in basic pancreatic cancer research, as well as clinical trials. Renè Bernards, Daniel Dauch, Christian Reinhardt, Jos Jonkers, and Laura Soucek were all speakers of this session. Martin Eilers from the Biocenter of the University of Würzburg closed the first session with his keynote lecture on understanding MYC function and possibilities of targeting it in pancreatic cancer.

The second day of the conference (31 May) started at 9 am with session 2. This session focused on cell-of-origin, differentiation, and pancreatic cancer subtypes. Various international speakers were part of this session, including Laura D. Wood from the United States, Francisco Real from Spain, and Ilse Rooman from Brussels. After a short coffee break, another set of well-known speakers introduced their ongoing work and new findings: Axel Behrens and Peter Bailey. One of the four chosen student short talks held by Helmut Laumen from the University of Halle closed the second session, talking about CPA-induced inflammation in pancreatic cancer carcinogenesis. This was a great opportunity for the young scientists to share their research in front of an international audience.

After the lunch break, the third session of the conference addressed the tumor microenvironment. Melanie Börries, Marina Pasca di Magliano, and Jen Morton presented their findings on the impact of the tumor microenvironment, T cell responses, and targeting of immune cells in mouse models of pancreatic cancer respectively. Following this insightful session, all participants gathered in the “Gutshof Foyer” at 3.30 pm to have a look at selected posters of attending students, to be able to talk about their projects, as well as networking. At 5 pm, the second part of the third session commenced, again focusing on the tumor microenvironment. We were able to learn more about how the tumor microenvironment shapes pancreatic cancer progression, the role of hepatic stellate cells and collagen in pancreatic cancer metastasis and, through another student short talk by Veronika Lutz (Marburg), about IL-17-prducing CD8+ T cells in the promotion of pancreatic cancer. The main speakers of this session were Raghu Kalluri (MD Anderson, TX) and Robert Schwabe (Columbia University Medical Center, NY).

The final day of the conference (June 1), commenced at 9 am with session 4 addressing genome dynamics in pancreatic cancer. This session was chaired by Volker Ellenrieder and Günter Schneider from Göttingen and started with a talk by one of the heads of our KFO5002, Elisabeth Heßmann. Heßmann’s talk was about her project on ARID1A deficiency and inflammatory signaling in pancreatic plasticity and cancer. This was followed by two interesting talks by Matthias Hebrok and Gioacchino Natoli addressing epigenetic regulators and coexisting biotypes in pancreatic cancer, respectively. The session was closed by a selected short talk of Laura Urbach, a Ph.D. student in the SP2 of our KFO5002, on gain-of-function p53 mutants in pancreatic cancer subtype specification.

Following a short coffee break, we continued with the next and final session of the conference at 11.15 am, focusing on emerging therapeutic concepts. This session again comprised well known speakers in the field: Diane Simeone about clinical trial designs, Eric Collisson about ferroaddiction, and Matthias Wirth about RUNX1 inhibition in pancreatic cancer. These talks were followed by the last student short talk from Munich by Chiara Falcomatà.

After some closing remarks, everyone collected their luggage, departed from Schloss Hohenkammer back to Munich and then back home whether it was in Germany or in a completely different country abroad. This conference was a great chance to get an update on international and ongoing pancreatic cancer research, to network with an amazing list of speakers, and to finally, at least in part, enjoy the experience of an on-site conference after some tough years during the COVID-19 pandemic. We are looking forward for the next joint meeting of the pancreatic cancer centers Germany in 2023.

It was an amazing experience to be able to present our findings in front of an in-person international audience as well as even more people via video conference. This is a huge aspect of scientific careers, and it is good to see that things are finally returning to a relatively normal setting. Those two and a half days were great at quickly but very effectively updating us on the newest pancreatic cancer research currently being conducted around the world.

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