Madeleine J. Oudin, PhD (she, her)

Assistant Professor, Biomedical Engineering

Graduate Biomedical Sciences Member, Cell, Molecular and Developmental Biology Program

Tiampo Family Professorship, Biomedical Engineering

Tufts University

Study Title: “Dissecting tumor cell-ECM interactions in the primary tumor and metastatic niche in the healthy and obese patient”

Can you tell us a little about yourself, what you do, and what research project brought you to the Tufts CTSI Research Studio?

I’m an Assistant Professor in Biomedical Engineering. I started in January 2018 and my lab is focused on studying mechanisms of cancer, metastasis, and drug resistance. When I started my lab, I knew I needed to start thinking about submitting an RO1; that was definitely, very daunting in terms of the scope. I’d written grants before, as fellowships, kind of shorter-term, smaller projects. So, I knew what kind of demands was involved in writing grants, but I think the scope of the RO1 and kind of where to focus it. And I think also how to focus in terms of study sections, and having that understanding, just things that I really didn’t know much about. So, when I had the opportunity to submit my specific aims to get some feedback; I thought that could be really helpful, and allow me to meet more people, and also be connected to other people on campus. That’s why I thought it was a good opportunity. Any opportunity to get feedback and advice was welcomed at that point.


Can you tell us about the overall value of the experience?

Having to put aims together, initially, was hard because it is a process. So just having to prepare for it (studio) was a good first step in trying to focus on really where I thought my first RO1 could go and be. Then presenting it live was great because a lot of times you can get feedback from people like written on your aims, but, you don’t have that conversation with them; whereas here, it was like live questions about different things I had brought up, and so, being able to respond to those comments right away, was really helpful. Just to get that feedback right away and being able to walk the people through if it was not clear, so you had to clarify, and so being able to go through that in real time and hearing what their thought process was, and then them hearing what you were trying to say so was really fun and you just don’t really get that in other ways.

It did really make me think about the scope of my aims. I think I had way too much, so there was a lot of focus on narrowing the scope and focusing on specific areas. And also thinking about study sections, particularly in terms of my work. There are study sections focused on metastasis, which is kind of just more tumor cells focused, and not so much other cells. And I was starting to get interested in other cells like adipocytes and incorporating those cells kind of opened me up to more like tumor microenvironment study sections. And so, I think, just hearing that from people, and just how I should just be aware of those differences and what was out there. I was also interested in drug resistance and putting that in as well, and that usually also opens up another study section like molecular cancer therapeutics. If you’re covering so many different things the reviewers might be from different areas, or the study section might not be prioritized in what you’re interested in. I think just hearing that from different people in that context, and people who had a lot of expertise in cancer grants, in NCI, and the different components that come into writing these grants, and not to make it too broad that it didn’t really fit in logically into one place. So those are just things that I really had not thought about at all, and kind of made me just rethink what I should focus on.


How did your studio presentation help you connect with collaborators across Tufts CTSI?

I definitely met with some clinicians there; that was helpful, in terms of talking to people. Jack Erban (clinical director of Tufts Cancer Center, at the time) was there, and I connected with him after a bit. I was also at that point really interested in getting human samples; it’s how I got connected to the Tufts Biorepository, where I was able to get lots of human samples for several projects that have been really critical for both papers that we’ve written to support these grants and the applications and having access to patient samples before and after chemotherapy. We got interested in obesity, we received patient samples of different BMIs. Those are really important to elevate the impact of our work in terms of publications, and also in terms of providing support that what we’re studying was relevant in patients for the grants.


What insights did the studio experience provide that helped you with project development?

Focusing and not willing to tackle too much. Being able to understand what the scope of an RO1 entailed. Being able to understand specific questions about the rationale for doing your different aims in your proposal and making sure you’re tailoring a specific study section.


Are there aspects to the studio experience that could be added to improve the value for participants like yourself? What do you we could to make it better?

Maybe having a follow-up or a second round. It’s a process; my first few RO1s were not fun; maybe being able to come back to get more feedback as you’re moving through it could be good. Or maybe having a mentor assigned after that. So, maybe you don’t need to meet with the whole studio. But like having maybe one or 2 people that are assigned to follow up with you and give you more feedback. I got that; you (Cheryl London) gave me feedback. Through these interactions, I’ve been able to connect with people who are able to give me feedback. But maybe for some people, that’s harder to do. And so maybe providing that more direct where in like 3 or 6 months, we’re going to follow up, and offer more guidance there.


Who do you think within the research community would benefit from participating in a studio? And why specifically would you recommend participating in a studio? 

Any junior faculty who’s applying to their first RO1. I feel like the RO1 is just so intimidating because it’s a much bigger scope than anything we’re used to writing as postdocs. I think that the hardest to nail; to have a good specific aims page, and a good plan for the scope, the focus, the rationale. It took a lot of time and work in talking to people to really understand what was a good way to approach that and to not have too much or too little, and to really understand what kind of collaborative support I needed, like letters from people. NIH really wants to see letters of support and more involvement from senior people.