On the verge of a new year
We closed 2019 with significant achievements in which you played a great part. In January, four young researchers joined the Centre through the International Postdoctoral Contract Program ‘CNIO Friends’ to pursue new strategies against cancer: Rubén Martínez investigates an oncogene that is altered in lung, breast and neuroblastoma tumours; María Moreno studies the structure of a protein whose overexpression is very common in cancer; Sarita Saraswati focuses on the origin of fibrosis, which has been associated with an increased risk of cancer; and Neibla Priego explores therapeutic and diagnostic options for brain metastases. I am convinced that we will be hearing about their findings over the next few years.
In 2019, we created the Office of Philanthropy and Development to strengthen the CNIO Friends initiative. This office will allow us to be closer to you and help us to increase our group of Friends.
I invite you to read in this newsletter about some of our most recent successes, such as the launch of our Equality Plan, the attainment of one of the most prestigious European grants (the ERC Consolidator Grant) by Manuel Valiente, which will be devoted to the study of how to treat and prevent brain metastases, or the celebration of our first -and they won’t be the last- debates on science and philosophy.
I wish you a very happy and successful 2020 and hope that you will continue to accompany us in advancing our knowledge on cancer biology and anti-cancer therapies as the most effective way to put an end to this terrible disease.
CNIO science news
A team from the Breast Cancer Clinical Research Unit, led by Miguel Ángel Quintela at the CNIO, has described a molecular strategy that prevenst the formation of tumours in mouse models of aggressive breast cancer.
The CNIO team found that the enzyme FASN, overexpressed in many types of cancer, is crucial for one of the essential processes by which a normal cell becomes cancerous.
Blocking FASN in an animal model of aggressive breast cancer delayed the onset of tumours and extended survival by 68%. The results suggest that the preventive potential of FASN in the development of breast cancer should be explored
Manuel Valiente, Head of the CNIO Brain Metastasis Group, recently obtained one of the prestigious ERC Consolidator Grants that Europe gives to European researchers with great potential in their careers. This is undoubtedly the case of Manuel Valiente, who has already made seminal discoveries in the study of brain metastases.
Valiente will explore a new approach (the study of the tumour microenvironment) to find treatments for brain metastases, which usually originate from melanoma and breast and lung tumours. So far there have been few studies on these metastases, and this impedes progress in therapies. He will explore new personalised strategies to slow their progression and even try to prevent their appearance.
To discuss the philosophical and ethical aspects of the impact that scientific advances will have on society, on November 19 we celebrated our first debates on philosophy and biomedical sciences, with the support of the Banc Sabadell Foundation.
During the conference, scientists Maria Blasco, Lluis Montoliú, Alfonso Valencia and Henrik Vogt exchanged views with philosophers María Cerezo, Antonio Diéguez, Arantza Etxeberria and Michael Hauskeller on the impact of longevity, human enhancement and gene editing on human health.
As every year, the CNIO did not miss its appointment with the Congress of the Spanish Group of Cancer Patients (GEPAC), which celebrated its 14th edition in 2019. The Centre had a stand at which several volunteer researchers explained for two days their work directly to patients and relatives who visited the Congress.
The Centre has approved an ambitious Equality Plan, with 67 important measures on access and selection, training, work-life balance, employment promotion, retribution and gender violence, to improve the working conditions of its professionals and ensure equal opportunities: for example, guaranteeing the balance between men and women promoted, substitutions during maternity and paternity leave, and facilitating the adaptation of working hours or flexible working for victims of gender violence.
Manuel Valiente: "With ALTER-brain, we will try to create therapeutic strategies against brain metastases"
We talked with researcher Manuel Valiente about his ALTER-brain project, which just obtained the prestigious European ERC Consolidator Grant to study brain metastases.
What do we currently know about the relationship between the brain and brain metastases?
That is the question that fascinates me most: how a tumour cell that originated in the breast, lung or skin can grow in an organ as special as the brain, where resources are very limited and that is designed for quick action to limit potential damage. The first metastatic cells that enter the brain encounter so many difficulties, that 9 out of 10 do not survive more than a few days in it. But some cells manage to circumvent these barriers and begin colonising the brain, which means that they are adapting to this new microenvironment. One way of adapting is to induce modifications in some of the cellular components of the brain, which change their anti-tumour function and induce a pro-tumour environment.
How will you focus your work?
We will investigate how functional changes occur in various components of the brain that are part of the microenvironment, such as astrocytes and blood vessels. Although we have identified some of the modifications that change the behaviour of astrocytes in such a way that they become pro-metastatic, we still do not fully understand the molecular basis of this process or why these changes do not affect all astrocytes. Regarding blood vessels, we know that their interaction with metastatic cells is important to the extent that, if it is altered, metastasis cannot progress. Our hypothesis concerning this part of the project is that we will find molecular changes that affect blood vessels and that promote colonisation during the earliest phases.
Could ALTER-brain results have clinical potential?
In collaboration with the Institut Català d’Oncologia (ICO) in Girona, we were able to show that inhibiting astrocyte alterations has an anti-metastatic effect in both experimental models and patients. We therefore believe that ALTER-brain has great potential to generate more and better therapeutic strategies against brain metastases, not only strategies that allow treating already formed metastases, but also preventive ones. We will evaluate the use of inhibitors using our METPlatform, and then test the most promising ones in samples obtained from neurosurgery from the clinic, thanks to collaborations with medical oncologists, neuro-oncologists and neurosurgeons of the Hospital 12 de Octubre. If we find new therapeutic opportunities, we can exploit them further through our solid network of national and international clinical collaborators.
Photo: DGP ( Dirección General de la Policía)
One of our most interesting Women in Science Office (WISE) talk of the year was held by Pilar Allué, General Deputy Director of Human Resources and Training of the National Police Corps. She told us how the incorporation of women into this body has progressed over the past 40 years, with advancements such as the creation of the National Office for Gender Equality.
Pilar Allué holds a graduate degree in Geography and History, a Master’s degree in Strategic Management of Public Security and a higher diploma in criminology. Since joining the Police in 1980, Allué was a pioneer on a number of occasions: creator of the new Police Department for Women’s Care in Valencia (1989); first woman in the ranks as chief inspector (1991); first woman to ascend to commissioner (1997); first woman to lead a territorial police headquarters (Cantabria, 2007), etc.
She has received numerous awards, such as Commander by Number of the Spanish Order of Civil Merit, the Gold Decoration of the Generalitat Valenciana for Police Merit and several Crosses of Police Merit.