Policy document about structured melanoma research training within Europe

Objectives

The objective of the MELGEN training programme are, first, to produce post-doctoral researchers who have had training in cutting edge cancer genomics and have generated high quality research data. These researchers will be statistically and bioinformatically competent and will understand the importance of collaboration. They will be trained to communicate effectively with experts and non-experts, and they will understand the need and the approach to entrepreneurship. In the light of the experience gained we will seek to promote restructuring of training in the future within our institutions.

MELGEN aimed to deliver to all Early Stage Researchers:

  • High quality supervision by multidisciplinary teams;
  • Statistical and bioinformatics training for all;
  • Collaboration/ exchange of expertise within MELGEN;
  • Emphasis on translational, multidisciplinary, collaborative working;
  • Familiarity with entrepreneurship and innovation;
  • Knowledge of IP/ governance issues.

Outcome

Based on the experiences and feedback of the Principal Investigators and Early Stage Researchers during the active MELGEN training network the MELGEN team have established the following policy statement:


All cancers are different to each other and therefore, although groups of tumours sharing most characteristics can be identified, how an individual will respond to his or her cancer, and to its treatment varies. People also differ in how well their bodies can defend themselves from the cancer, partly, it is thought because of inherited differences, and partly because of lifestyles and associated illnesses. Making treatment better therefore for cancer patients is a challenge, because the treatments work best if they can be chosen to best fit individual patients. This is widely known as personalised medicine.

In order to develop personalised medicine, it is widely recognised that research groups and research institutes internationally need to work together [1]. Within Europe, the collaborative network of cancer research institutes known as Cancer Core Europe [1] is an example of working together to pool resources, to broaden expertise and to carry out collaborative studies. Crucially working together means that scientists can increase the size of studies and increasing size is necessary to produce research which generates research conclusions which are more likely to be correct. Big is beautiful here then, but this requires many hands and many patients to take part in the studies. Increasingly then, grant giving bodies fund international research teams such as the 25 “Dream Teams” funded by AACR, and the “Grand Challenges” which fund up to £20 million over 5 years to work together to answer the key current questions in cancer research.

EU research funding has long recognised the need to fund networks or consortia working together. GenoMEL itself was funded by EU Framework 6 as a Network of Excellence. The benefits resulting from structured training of researchers were recognised by Horizon 2020 funding for MARIE SKŁODOWSKA-CURIE ACTIONS which was the source of funding for MELGEN.

The principle of structured training is that scientists at the beginning of their training (PhD training) benefit from similar networks to those being funded for the research itself alluded to above. That by working and training together, students can benefit from:-

  • Exchanges across Europe to reap the benefits of access to particular expertise and samples that they would not otherwise have had
  • Training courses taught by experts outside the students’ own university in addition to those working within those institutions
  • A supportive network of fellow PhD students exchanging information at regular meetings and via the internet
  • Presentation of their data to constructive critics within the network
  • The chance of being inspired by meeting experts informally and formally internationally, allowing for future career opportunities.

The feedback from MELGEN students has been very positive, and we have learnt how we might improve things further in the future, and our experience leads us to the view that this model of training  should be more widely adopted.

  1. Eggermont, A.M.M., et al., Cancer Core Europe: A translational research infrastructure for a European mission on cancer. Mol Oncol, 2019. 13(3): p. 521-527.