The Sentinel


Thursday, September 19, 2019

Reflections of SITC Cancer Immunotherapy Winter School

The following is a blog post authored by Andy Kah Ping Tay, PhD (Stanford University), a recipient of a 2019 SITC Cancer Immunotherapy Winter School Travel Award. In this blog, Dr. Tay describes his experience of attending the Winter School program, a comprehensive education program for early-to-mid-career scientists and clinicians. Click here to learn more about the 2020 SITC Cancer Immunotherapy Winter School scheduled for Jan. 13–17, 2020, in Houston, Texas.

By Andy Tay

A confidence booster

Trained as a biomedical engineer, I stumbled into cancer immunology research without much prior knowledge and continually worried that I might be too late going into this popular field. The SITC Winter School, however, changed my view. It provided me with sufficient knowledge on the basics of immunology and the clinical side of cell therapy. At the same time, there was appreciable amount of content on the industrial and technological aspects of immunotherapies. This arrangement was unique and helpful to the broad audience coming from academic institutions, clinics and industries. In fact, after the Winter School, I realized that despite the need for better assessment of cell quality for cancer immunotherapy, the current metrics to measure critical biological attribute are lacking. Building on this idea, I recently published an original article proposing a framework to rigorously assess cell quality after DNA delivery. The Winter School is a fertile ground to get new ideas to work on!

Immunotherapy for ALL

The SITC Winter School is also the first time where I met patient partners in a conference. It was a humbling experience because as a researcher, I hardly had any interaction with patients and yet, my technologies are meant to accelerate biomedicine for them. Through conversing with patient partners, I realized that there is insufficient information to educate patients about cancer immunotherapy as it is a relatively new therapy compared to chemo- and radio-therapies. This is especially true for children patients who are young and learn better through toys. Motivated by this, I went on to design a toy kit with the Stanford Design School to educate children aged 5-10 fighting cancer about immunotherapy (see figure below). I am extremely grateful that the SITC Winter School gave me an additional perspective about research which is that as researchers strive for biomedical breakthroughs, there should be sufficient communications with the larger society to explain what these breakthroughs will mean for them. 

Integrating into the SITC family

During the Winter School, I also got plenty of opportunities to learn about the various initiatives of SITC. One particularly useful take-away was an invitation to join the SITC Big Data and Data Sharing Task Force. Despite the promise of bioinformatics to improve cancer and immunological research, there is insufficient student trained in this area. Furthermore, the data that the community generates from analyses such as RNA transcriptomics are often under-utilized. The task force I am in aims to create training opportunities for students in computational cancer immunology, and to create workshops during conferences to introduce researchers to bioinformatics.

Whether you are looking to learn more about cancer immunology, or trying to find new ideas to work on, the SITC Winter School is a great platform for that!

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