Óscar Fernández-Capetillo (Bilbao, 1974), a researcher from Spain’s National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) who leads the Genomic Instability Group, received the National “Doctores Diz Pintado” Cancer Research Prize yesterday. This prize is awarded by the University of Salamanca’s Cancer Research Foundation in memory of Drs. Manuel and Alfonso Diz Pintado.
The jury decided to recognise Fernández-Capetillo’s effort and scientific career as the best young researcher, born after 1967, in Spain or abroad; for having generated, developed and applied new biological and clinical knowledge to the fight against cancer.
Genomic Instability is a leading field in oncology research due to the presence of multiple abnormalities within the chromosome structure or sequence. The origin of many of these changes is the splitting of the DNA molecule, which leads to the abnormal reorganisation of chromosomes, and in some cases, generates new combinations that stimulate tumour growth. The point is that the DNA molecule is fragile and can be split.
Everything appears to indicate that genomic instability is practically a universal characteristic of all tumours and something that differentiates them from healthy tissue. From this point of view, Fernández‐Capetillo hopes that: “this distinctive property can be turned into a tumour’s Achilles heel, allowing us to design strategies to selectively kill cancer cells.”
He adds that: “what’s more, we are starting to understand that DNA damage is not only a source of cancer but also of ageing, which makes research in this area central to two fundamental health problems.”
Via the study of genomic instability, new mechanisms are being sought after which, based on genomic instability, succeed in selectively eliminating tumour cells. Over the long-term, these basic, fundamental studies can be transferred to clinical practice and improve patient treatment.
A STUDY OF REPLICATIVE STRESS
The CNIO laboratory directed by Óscar Fernández-Capetillo has centred its research on a source of DNA damage known as replicative stress, which is generated every time a cell has to make a copy of its genetic material. Studies from his laboratory in 2005 showed that tumours had high levels of this type of damage.
The award-winning group has explored the tools cells have available to protect their genome from this type of damage, and how to exploit that knowledge to design potential anticancer therapies.
By following this method, they have been able to generate compounds that are preferentially toxic to cells that exhibit replicative stress, as in the case of tumours. In addition to cancer research, the group led by Fernández-Capetillo demonstrated that replicative stress can also be a cause of ageing.