Kristin A. Altwegg Receives AACR Associate Member Award at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium 2019Published: Tuesday, December 17, 2019
Kristin A. Altwegg, a CPRIT Predoctoral Fellow and third year IBMS Cancer Biology program doctoral candidate, received an American Association for Cancer Research Associate Member Award for her poster at the San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium. Below is her description of the conference.
The 42nd annual San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) held from December 10-14, 2019 brought together approximately 8,000 people from over 88 countries. This international symposium is directed primarily towards academic and private physicians and researchers involved with breast cancer in the medical, surgical, and radiation oncology specialty fields as well as patient advocates and other health care professionals. SABCS is a joint effort presented by the UT Health San Antonio MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Dan L. Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor College of Medicine, and the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) in collaboration with the Society for Surgical Oncology and the American Society for Radiation Oncology.
During my graduate career, I have had the privilege to attend SABCS twice. For me, attending SABCS is an eye-opening mind-blowing whirlwind experience that both invigorates me and leaves me with a focused motivation for my own research career. At my first SABCS I made the mistake of wearing very pretty shoes that didn’t hold up well as I scurried across the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center to attend the many workshops, education sessions, poster sessions, and career development forums while carrying a winter coat and a heavy backpack. I. Learned. My. Lesson. The coat got left in the car, the laptop became a tablet, and comfort became key in footwear!
This year, the symposium opened with simultaneous workshops on “Developing Novel Therapeutics in the Metastatic Setting” moderated by UT Health San Antonio’s own Dr. Virginia Kaklamani, M.D. and “Molecular Biology in Breast Oncology” moderated by Dr. Carlos Artega, M.D. from UT Southwestern Simmons Comprehensive Cancer Center, Dallas, TX. I then attended the afternoon educational session on “Breast Cancer Prevention” moderated by Dr. Judy Garber, M.D., Ph.D., from Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Boston, MA. (DFCI). My dissertation project pertains to the development of novel small molecule inhibitors for treatment of therapy resistant and triple negative breast cancers. I selected these workshops and educational sessions to expand my own knowledge base and to “get a feel” for the current status of the field.
Wednesday was one of the most profound days for me professionally. I recently submitted an NCI F99/K00 Pre to Postdoctoral Fellow Transition Award which compels you to assiduously determine your postdoctoral training and career goals in addition to long term professional goals; I was determined to be one of the 200 participants admitted to the 2019 Career Development Forum: Career Roundtables sponsored by Eisai Inc. The roundtables consisted of 13 topics with two-three professionals per table over a one-hour period. I attended “Careers in Translational Research (Laboratory)” for the first 30- minute session where I had the opportunity to sit and speak with Dr. Sarat Chandarlapaty M.D., Ph.D. from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, NY and Dr. Violeta Serra, Ph.D., Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology, Barcelona, Spain.
I am steadfast in my dedication to becoming and independent translational cancer biologist and found discussing my career goals with them lead me to think more intently about when and where to begin looking for translational postdoctoral positions, and more specifically the caliber of programs offered by the institution. The primary lesson that I learned from both Drs. Chandarlapaty and Serra was to keep focused on attaining your research goals no matter where life may take you (including Spain!). The second session I attended was “Burnout and Resilience” with Dr. Stuart Bloom, M.D., from Minnesota Oncology, Minneapolis, MN and the renowned Dr. Eric P. Winer M.D., from DFCI. From this discussion I learned that Dr. Bloom plays piano and is an avid “foodie” while other discussants found exercise, reading for personal interest, and outdoor activities relaxing. The lesson learned from Drs. Bloom and Winer was that you absolutely HAVE to take care of yourself (mentally, physically, and socially) first and foremost to avoid burnout. I will shamelessly advocate visiting the free UT Health San Antonio Student Counseling Center even if it is to sit in one of their massage chairs for a bit.
On Wednesday afternoon I attended the 2019 Susan G. Komen® Brinker Award for Scientific Distinction in Clinical Research lecture, “The Molecular Etiology of Luminal-Type Breast Cancer” given by Dr. Matthew J. Ellis, MB BChir, BSc, PhD, FRCP from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, TX. I have no words for how incredible it was to attend this stimulating lecture from such an eloquent speaker. Overall, this wrapped up a very exciting day for me before heading off to Poster Session 1 to network with fellow poster presenters.
Thursday, I spent the majority of the day attending various lectures, including the AACR Distinguished Lectureship in Breast Cancer Research, “Essential Genes and Cistromes in Breast Cancer” given by Dr. Myles A. Brown, M.D., from DFCI. I took so many notes during this fascinating talk such as: points to study later, things I need to learn, and how apply this knowledge to my own work.
Thursday afternoon I presented my poster, for which I was selected to receive the AACR Associate Member Award for presenters of meritorious abstracts. It is truly an honor to be recognized nationally for my work as a predoctoral candidate! My poster generated a lot of interest and kept me talking the entire two hours.
As the day closed and staff gently herded us toward the doors, I finally had time to talk to Dr. Amriti R. Lulla, Ph.D., the postdoctoral fellow from MD Anderson whose poster was next to mine. On our way out, we spoke a lot about the MD Anderson TRIUMPH (Translational Research and Multi-disciplinary program) Postdoctoral Fellowship. She gave me a lot of suggestions including some potential mentors to investigate.
Friday and Saturday followed a similar pattern as the previous days, with me rushing around to attend specific sessions, lectures, and poster sessions. As I mentioned before, SABCS is eye-opening mind-blowing whirlwind experience! Overall, it is a skillfully balanced blend of clinical, laboratory, and translational breast cancer research designed to build collaborations that will shape the future of our field. I personally utilized every opportunity at SABCS to network with leaders in the field, develop future collaborations, look for potential postdoctoral mentors, and make valuable new friendships. Even as I write this, I find myself ready to hit the lab again with renewed focus and determination to conquer my dissertation project and prepare to meet what the future holds.
The “Beyond The Bench” series features articles written by students and postdoctoral fellows at the Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio.