My Meeting Experience: A Fellow’s Perspective, Dr. Sarah Derks

My Meeting Experience: A Fellow’s Perspective, Dr. Sarah Derks

Dr. Sarah Derks
Sarah Derks, MD, PhD, is a medical oncology fellow at the VU University Medical Center, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. She is also a research fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Below, Dr. Derks discusses why she attends the ASCO Annual Meeting and lends advice for other fellows attending the Meeting

ASCO Daily News: Why did you decide to attend the ASCO Annual Meeting last year?

Dr. Derks: I attended the 2016 ASCO Annual Meeting because I presented a poster, and I was also awarded a Conquer Cancer Foundation of ASCO Young Investigator Award. I much enjoyed the poster presentation, which gave me the opportunity to discuss my research with other scientists and to build on new collaborations.

ASCO Daily News: What short- and/or long-term takeaways did you bring back from the Meeting?

Dr. Derks: For me, most of the takeaways from the 2016 ASCO Annual Meeting were related to developments in the immuno-oncology field. As people unravel the differences in tumor immune microenvironments between different cancers and cancer subtypes and demonstrate how these differences influence response to immune checkpoint inhibitors, it becomes increasingly apparent that immunotherapy needs an individualized approach, comparable to targeted therapies. The identification of expression signatures associated with sensitivity (IFN-gamma expression signature) or resistance (IPRES) to PD-1 pathway blockade and mechanisms of immune exclusion (such as β-catenin pathway activation in melanoma) are impressive steps forward. Furthermore, the problem of intratumor heterogeneity becomes increasingly clear and might be an even bigger problem than currently appreciated. Hopefully, developments and technical improvements in analyzing circulating DNA can provide a solution.

ASCO Daily News: Why is it important for fellows to attend the ASCO Annual Meeting?

Dr. Derks: As working at a clinic can be overwhelmingly busy, particularly when combined with research, it can be challenging to keep up with developments in the field. The ASCO Annual Meeting is a terrific way to get a broader view of the ongoing research in medical oncology. Furthermore, as a fellow in translational research, it is particularly important to get an overview of clinical developments and any remaining issues that researchers still might have to anticipate.

The ASCO Annual Meeting is an inspiring environment and an amazing opportunity to hear about groundbreaking updates in cancer research and to meet leaders in the field. It’s definitely something you don’t want to miss.

ASCO Daily News: How do you plan out your time during the ASCO Annual Meeting?

Dr. Derks: Time management is quite important at the Meeting, as the number of amazing sessions is overwhelming. Because of this, I focus partly on my specific topic of interest, which is upper gastrointestinal cancer and immunotherapy, but also on sessions about unrelated topics to get new insights. I really appreciate the iPlanner app, which helps me search based on a topic and select my sessions each day.

Besides the Plenary Session, I personally believe that Poster Sessions are a pivotal part of the Meeting, and I think they should be prioritized, as those are where people often present their newest data. Afterward, the poster presenters are available for great discussions.

ASCO Daily News: What advice do you have for a first-time attendee looking to maximize their experience at the Meeting?

Dr. Derks: Because of the magnitude of great sessions, make a plan beforehand. Don’t make a schedule where you are running all day, but pick some sessions you definitely want to attend. I would strongly recommend spending time at the Poster Session and talking to people. You will find that they are often very approachable, and they might give you advice. Finally, attend some sessions outside your field, as this is a great opportunity to broaden your knowledge and get new ideas.•

About Dr. Derks: Dr. Derks is a medical oncology fellow at the VU University Medical Center, in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, and a postdoctoral research fellow at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. Her goal is to improve treatment and survival of patients with esophageal cancer by studying biologic processes in the tumor and the immune microenvironment and to utilize this knowledge for the development of new treatment strategies. Dr. Derks joined the laboratory of Adam Bass, MD, at Dana-Farber. Under his guidance, she is studying key features of esophageal cancers and determining how these influence sensitivity and resistance to therapy. The overarching goal of these ongoing efforts is to detail the immune-suppressant mechanisms in esophageal cancer and develop rational approaches to block these mechanisms to unleash the immune system to attack these cancers.