Speaking at the AGM of the Neuroblastoma Society: a privilege and a challenge

wpdcbc3682_05_06Violaine Sée is Lecturer in the Institute of Integrative Biology and co-director of the Centre for Cell Imaging. Find out more about her research here.

Last Saturday (25/04/2015), I had the huge privilege but also the challenging task to present our research at the annual general meeting of the Neuroblastoma society in London. The society was founded in 1982 by a group of parents whose children were suffering from or had died from neuroblastoma, a very aggressive childhood cancer. Thirty years later, the society is still run in large by parents and grand-parents, who have experienced very difficult times because of this terrible pediatric cancer. It was a privilege to talk to the members of the society who are working so hard to fund medical research into improving diagnosis and treatment of the disease. It was also a challenge, talking to an audience that relies on you and your research to make a difference to the treatment of their children’s disease. It is a very difficult task because science is slow and does not translate immediately to the clinic, yet there are many hopes that it will. Not only scientists must convey their message in lay terms and make sure that they keep their audience with them at all time, but, just as importantly, the message has to be right, fair and humble, even though the audience might have high expectations. Fundamental research makes slow progress, new cures cannot be found within the timescale of a project and the worst message from such a presentation would be based hypes and false hopes, instead of rigorous and objective scientific facts. This is a huge responsibility for us as scientists and I had in my heart to keep this right.

The chick embryo as  a model for metastasis

The chick embryo as a model for metastasis; credit Anne Herrmann

So I explained my vision on one important aspect of the disease, which is its metastatic spread in the body. I presented how such spreading can be studied and the models that are available in laboratories. I introduced our chick embryo model, which for this developmental disease is particularly well suited and explained the metastatic spread using metaphors such as the ability of crawling in the jungle with the need to cut tall grass, bushes etc (invasion and metalloproteases) and the ability to escape the crocodiles in the stream of the river and grab something like a branch on the river bank to come out of the water (cell circulation in blood vessels and extravasation with the use of integrins). Because I work in the Centre for Cell Imaging, I had plenty of images and videos to show what the cells really do when they travel in the body.

I would like to thank the Neuroblastoma Society and their always welcoming members for the nice meeting. I have a great admiration for the society dedication and contribution to the scientific and clinical research, and I have no doubts, that it has contributed to many recent advances in the knowledge and management of the disease.