Kim’s research centres on a protein called MRP1, which cancer cells use to avoid being killed by chemotherapy. MRP1 is a ‘membrane transporter’, which means that it sits in the membrane enclosing cells, pumping out chemotherapy drugs before they can work. Kim is trying to stop MRP1 from doing this, and so sensitise cancer cells to chemotherapy.
She was really keen to attend this particular conference because it focused specifically on the group of membrane transporters that MRP1 belongs to, which are known as ABC transporters.
Q: How was your work received?
A: The conference (entitled “ATP-Binding Cassette (ABC) Proteins: From Multidrug Resistance to Genetic Disease”) had a very different viewpoint from anything I’ve experienced before, as there were only two cancer talks. But other PhD students said it really encouraged them to see how their work, which is uncovering the structure and function of ABC transporters, is being used by cancer researchers like us to try and help patients.
Q: How have you benefitted from attending the conference?
A: The different viewpoint was incredibly useful. I had people ask questions that I’d never considered before, such as from a structural biology or biochemical point of view. We then discussed experiments that could help answer those questions. I never would have had the opportunity to see my project in that light if I hadn’t attended. I think if I’m able to address those suggestions, it would really help to round out our work, providing a more comprehensive study.
Q: What was it like to meet the big names in your field?
A: You certainly do a double-take when people introduce themselves and you recognise them from the pivotal papers in your field, or when you find out later that the person you sat down to dinner with is someone whose research you’ve pored over and really admired. It’s great too that the conference offered extracurricular activities like the Young Scientist Career Dinner and skiing. That really broke down barriers between students and the top scientists, because you could have a casual chat about science and hear about their experiences and career paths.
Q: What was the most exciting/interesting thing you heard/saw?
A: I heard an amazing talk by Wonhwa Cho on ways to measure cholesterol levels in the inner and outer layer of the membranes of cells simultaneously. It was just incredible, with really mind-blowing techniques. The Poster Bullet Session, where PhD students and post-docs have 3 minutes to give a snapshot of their work, is always entertaining and gives you a good overview of the scope of the work presented at the conference.
Q: What was your favourite part of the conference?
A: My favourite part was meeting an incredible group of PhD students from Birmingham and Nottingham in the UK who kindly adopted me over the course of the conference, courtesy of my roommate Meg. A really amazing, lovely group of passionate students. Second was the feeling of a cohesive, dynamic global ABC Transporter community – everyone knew each other, got on really well, and offered valuable advice and suggestions. Third was when the Australians taught everyone the Nutbush.
Find out more about our MRP1 research.
Top Image: Innsbruck, Austria (photo supplied by Kim Hanssen).