In a ceremony that will be held in Burgos on September 23, the Scientific Foundation of the Spanish Cancer Association (AECC) will award a grant of 1.2 million euros to the Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO), to promote a multidisciplinary large-scale project, the aim of which is to take a step forward in the diagnosis and treatment of melanoma. In addition, Cristina Montero from the CNIO Hereditary Endocrine Cancer Group, headed by Mercedes Robledo, will receive a grant to explore new strategies against thyroid cancer that is resistant to standard radioactive iodine therapy.
CONSORTIUM FOR THE STUDY OF METASTASIS
Marisol Soengas, head of the Melanoma Group at the CNIO, will lead a Coordinated Group for a period of 5 years. It will be comprised of 11 research groups from the Centre itself (her Melanoma Group, the Microenvironment and Metastasis Group led by Héctor Peinado and the Bioinformatics Unit led by David G. Pisano), as well as from the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona, Hospital 12 de Octubre of Madrid, IDIBAPS, VHIR, ICO and the IDIBELL. The Group will also collaborate with researchers from the National Cancer Institute and the Weill Cornell Medical College (both from the U.S.), as well as from the Queensland Institute of Medical Research (Australia). The multidisciplinary nature of the consortium will combine the most cutting-edge bioinformatics technology and genetic analysis with the knowledge from basic and clinical researchers working in the areas of molecular biology, pharmacology, dermatology and bioinformatics, who will employ animal models as well as over 4,000 patient-derived clinical samples.
The project will have four main objectives: identifying the main risk factors; discovering the genes involved in early metastasis; validating new therapeutic options; and establishing a training programme for basic and clinical researchers, who will thus have the opportunity to exchange knowledge and pursue together the validation of effective strategies against this disease in greater depth.
HIGH INCIDENCE AND METASTATIC CAPACITY
It is estimated that one in every 50 children born this year will develop melanoma (an aggressive cancer that affects the melanocytes, cells that produce melanin) at some time in their lives. In recent years, basic research has managed to improve the positive response of patients, which has increased from 10-20% to 60-70%. However, this is one of most challenging types of cancer for researchers, as it appears in multiple forms and presents a large number of mutations as well as high functional plasticity.
Melanoma aggressiveness and metastatic potential constitute additional barriers: “Melanoma is the only cancer type in which each tenth of a millimeter counts when it comes to patient prognosis: a tumour over 2 mm thick already has potential metastatic capacity”, explains Marisol Soengas. “A fundamental approach of our project will consist of understanding how melanoma cells communicate with their environment, both locally and remotely.”
Training is another goal of the consortium. Basic researchers will have mentors available at the hospitals, where they will be able to explore the pathology of the disease more in depth, while clinical specialists will participate in research centres to investigate their molecular mechanisms.
“We are confident that this project will allow us to have the best options for the diagnosis and treatment of melanoma in 5 years’ time,” said Soengas.
OTHER AECC GRANTS
At the event being held on September 23, the AECC will also award a grant to the postdoctoral researcher Cristina Montero from the Hereditary Endocrine Cancer Group, led by Mercedes Robledo, to explore new strategies against thyroid cancer that is resistant to standard radioactive iodine treatment. Although thyroid cancer is considered a rare disease, its incidence rates have increased overall over the last decade compared to other cancer types. The highest survival rates after ten years − of 90% − are reduced to less than 15% among patients who do not respond to the standard treatment.
These grants are in addition to other CNIO projects funded by the AECC, and are aimed at promoting advances in cancer research related to hematological malignancies, breast cancer or invasive bladder cancer, as well as fellowships for investigators who return to their home countries, postdoctoral contracts, advanced training of scientists and short stays for laboratory training of university students. Some of the most recent ones include funding of 1.2 million euros for Paco Real, head of the Epithelial Carcinogenesis Group, who is coordinating the project “Invasive bladder cancer: towards precision medicine”, integrated by the CNIO, the Spanish Oncology Genitourinary Group and the Institut Català d'Oncologia.
About the AECC
The AECC is a Non-Profit Organization that has been working for 62 years in the fight against cancer. It brings together patients, family members, volunteers and professionals to join forces and work to prevent, raise awareness, and share with the people affected, as well as to fund cancer research projects that will enable a better diagnosis and treatment of cancer.