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CNIO Friends Newsletter 46


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From left to right: Clara Reglero, Rayan Naser, Mikhail Chesnokov, Bárbara Hernando, Isabel Espejo, Ivó Hernández, Carolina Villaroya and María Martínez. / Laura M. Lombardía, CNIO.From left to right: Clara Reglero, Rayan Naser, Mikhail Chesnokov, Bárbara Hernando, Isabel Espejo, Ivó Hernández, Carolina Villaroya and María Martínez. / Laura M. Lombardía, CNIO.

Dear CNIO friends,

In this latest issue, we would like to show you the most tangible result of your donations: meet the beneficiaries who have been awarded the latest Friends of CNIO contracts. This time there are nine researchers, a record number and real cause for celebration, so thank you once again.
As you will see, these are truly excellent individuals in terms of their dedication, their skill, and their drive to solve complex problems that have a profound impact on our lives. They are conducting research into ageing – the process responsible for most of the diseases that affect us today – and pancreatic cancer – one of the most lethal forms with the fewest therapeutic options –, and into biomarkers to detect early metastasis. They are creative and innovative, at the very cutting edge of cancer research. We couldn’t be prouder that they have chosen CNIO to continue advancing in their careers.

We will also talk to you about the research results we have obtained in this highly productive quarter at CNIO. Some are very basic and may seem far removed from day-to-day oncology. For example, ‘succinylation’ – you’ll have to keep reading to find out what it is ;-). But, although it is indeed a basic finding, it is still crucial to our understanding of cancer. Put simply, we cannot cure cancer unless we understand it.

We saw further evidence of this same principle at the CFM congress on the 3D structure of the genome. Here at CNIO we welcomed some of the world’s leading experts in this area, which, again, we might think of as being a world away from clinical practice. And, yet, in recent years it has been discovered that faults in this genome structure, the points where the architectural framework of the molecule is more fragile, are also where mutations are most likely to accumulate, giving rise to cancer, among other things.

We have also made progress against lung cancer; we have discovered one of the reasons why chemotherapy fails; we have explored the genetic reasons why some drugs are more effective in some people than in others; and we have reviewed everything that is known today about a crucial topic: the relationship between what we eat and cancer.

This issue also includes an interview with one of the most cited cancer researchers in the world: American immunologist Tak W. Mak, who says that we still need to continue researching immunotherapy to harness the full therapeutic potential of this strategy.

On a cultural level, we are very proud to announce that our exhibition of pieces from the CNIO Arte programme, exhibited at the New York headquarters of the Cervantes Institute, is currently at the Spanish Embassy in Washington, USA, where it will be on display until 30 June.

And I would like to end on a very happy thought: we’ll see you very soon! As you know, on 26th June we look forward to welcoming you at our CNIO Friends Day. Spaces are limited, so please don’t forget to confirm your attendance by e-mailing filantropia@cnio.es. We can’t wait to tell you all about what we do, and of course to thank you, in person.

Warmest wishes,
Maria A. Blasco  Director of CNIO



Nine young scientists will conduct cutting-edge research at CNIO thanks to the solidarity of thousands of donors

The excitement of making a discovery and knowing that discovery will help others are truly great rewards for those who dedicate themselves to research. But a career in science also includes a long period of intense competition to access the best institutions, and valuable people can sometimes end up quitting due to a lack of opportunities. The contributions of more than 2,400 donors to the Friends of CNIO philanthropic initiative  are helping more young researchers to advance in this postdoctoral stage, by joining the National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO).

The contributions of more than 2,400 ‘Friends of CNIO’ have already allowed 34 exceptional scientists to continue their research into cancer. The donors are individuals, associations and companies, including L’Oréal Spain and its brand La Roche-Posay.

The nine researchers selected for this latest edition have previously conducted research in the United Kingdom, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, France, the United States and, of course, elsewhere in Spain. They are researching ageing, pancreatic cancer and how to detect metastasis early on, among other areas. Without this Friends of CNIO contract, some of them may have had to quit science

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We are delighted to present Diana Vara. Thanks to your donations, last year she was able to join CNIO’s Cell Division and Cancer Research Group, led by Marcos Malumbres.

Her entire research career has been related to the role of cell signalling and metabolism regulation in cancer. In this particular project, she is exploring PP2A/B55 – a pathway involved in mitosis that regulates cell metabolism and plays an important role in proper chromosomal segregation and cell cycle control – and its involvement in tumour formation with the aim of modulating it with therapeutic treatments.

She became interested in science at a very young age and was especially drawn to a career in this field when she began to discover how cells worked. She recalls her fascination at wondering how such a tiny thing—a cell—can so perfectly regulate everything that happens in the body. But what really motivated her to follow the path of cancer research was working and finding out more about this disease that affects so many people; it makes her very happy that her chosen field can help people.

Diana tells us that “working at CNIO is an excellent opportunity because I am joining an innovative scientific community that thinks big, and I have all the equipment and technology I need to do my work in the same place, which is not that common in Spain”.

“I am really enjoying the sense of camaraderie in my group and the way each member is willing to question the science of others in the best possible way, helping to driving progress in that field,” Diana tells us. She also stresses that “our work is centred around focusing research on the benefit of the patient and innovating so as to solve complex scientific questions intelligently”.

She is sure that in ten years’ time she will still be working in science. Thanks to the Friends of CNIO contract, she is able to hone her skills and, whether she decides to lead her own group or to teach the next generation of scientists, she will never forget the people who have given her the possibility to work on this project and take another step closer to stopping cancer.


Researchers identify a strategy used by cancer cells to resist chemotherapy

The work, published in Nature, focuses on cancers of epithelial origin. It shows that some cancer cells resist treatment by the action of the RHOJ protein. Inhibiting this protein in animal models results in cancer cells responding again to chemotherapy.

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CNIO researchers analyse how the Spanish population responds to common drugs according to their genetics

Adverse drug effects are considered the fifth leading cause of death in Spain, according to the researchers. Between 10% and 50% of patients would benefit from a personalised management based on their genes in treatments with some of the most common antidepressants, anticoagulants and antitumour drugs.

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Scientists identify the mechanisms leading to resistance to lung cancer treatment with sotorasib, the first KRAS inhibitor

The study, recently published in the Journal of Clinical Investigation, demonstrates that, if the KRAS oncogene could be completely inhibited by more potent drugs or degraders, the resistance observed in the clinic could be eliminated, or at least significantly reduced.

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Specifically designed diets demonstrate a “powerful ability” to prevent tumorigenesis, delay tumor growth and improve existing cancer treatments, CNIO researchers say in a review paper

Diet helps prevent up to one-third of the most common cancers, say the authors in Trends in Molecular Medicine. Precision nutrition aims to design diets tailored to each individual and their condition, with the goal of maximizing effectiveness while limiting adverse effects.

The study focuses on calorie restriction, the ketogenic diet and intermittent fasting, analyzing how they can influence the onset and progression of tumors.

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CNIO researchers collect samples from cabin crew members to investigate the relationship between cancer and jet lag

We know there is a clear link between our biological clock, the immune system and cancer. To further investigate the relevance of the human biological clock in cancer prevention, CNIO has begun to study the effects of chronic jet lag on immune system cells in cabin crew members.

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CNIO researchers propose biomarkers to select breast cancer patients who could benefit from denosumab treatment

The drug denosumab is currently used to treat osteoporosis and bone metastases. For more than a decade, its potential therapeutic benefit in the treatment of breast cancer has also been studied. The study supports the therapeutic benefit of this drug in postmenopausal patients with hormone-receptor negative breast tumours and RANK protein expression.

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The largest genomic study of rare cancer metastatic pheochromocytoma identifies patients at highest risk of metastasis and those who would respond to immunotherapy

The new results will help to follow patients with a bad prognosis more closely, and to move towards more personalized treatments. The research analyzes an “exceptionally high” number of samples, something very difficult in rare diseases and achieved thanks to the collaboration of centers from countries all over the world.

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CNIO researchers help to understand the functioning of the protein that makes DNA loops in the human genome

Cohesin is a ring-shaped protein that surrounds and moves around the DNA molecule, forming the loops. It is a crucial process for the cell. Understanding how cohesin works has been one of the challenges of molecular biology in recent decades.

The work now published will serve to deepen our understanding of the disease known as Cornelia de Lange syndrome.

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CNIO researchers show that targeting telomeres might be an effective therapeutic strategy against lung cancer

Telomeres are the structures that protect the ends of chromosomes. The ability of tumor cells to continue dividing indefinitely, as if they were immortal, depends on telomeres. But, when telomeres are damaged, lung cancer cells lose the ability to divide and the tumor shrinks, new results show.

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The search for the origin of a rare tumor points to a poorly studied mechanism as a new would-be hot topic in cancer research: ‘succinylation’

Succinylation is one of the last steps in the production of some proteins and could become a new therapeutic target for cancer. The authors of the finding, published in Cancer Communications, wanted to find out why a specific mutation caused rare tumor pheochromocytoma- paraganglioma in five patients.

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RENACER, the first collection of live human brain metastasis samples, receives an award from the Spanish Group of Cancer Patients

The Spanish Cancer Patients Group (GEPAC) has awarded the “Social and Scientific Research in Oncology” prize to RENACER, the National Brain Metastasis Network promoted by the CNIO (Spanish National Cancer Research Center). RENACER is building the first collection of live human brain metastasis samples in the world, for the scientific community to use.

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The Spanish association of local governments and the first ‘CNIO Friend’ town hall visit CNIO

The Spanish Federation of Municipalities and Provinces (FEMP) and CNIO will explore how to collaborate at an institutional level

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The Embassy of Spain in the United States hosts CNIO Arte

A selection of works from CNIO Arte can be seen at the Spanish Embassy in the United States, in Washington, D.C., from April 27th to June 30th.

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CNIO science at the ‘Madrid es Ciencia’ outreach fair

“We do research to prevent, diagnose and treat cancer” is the slogan of the CNIO (Spanish National Cancer Research Center) stand at ‘Madrid is Science’, an outreach fair organized by the Community of Madrid and aimed especially at the educational community.

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Genome biology enters the third dimension in search of new treatments

The international CNIO-CaixaResearch Frontiers Meeting analysed the role of the genome structure in a number of areas, from the neurotoxicity of chemotherapy to drug addiction and obesity.

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Oncologist Richard Vile: “I truly believe that in 10 years’ time oncolytic viruses will be part of effective anti-tumour therapies”

Richard Vile is researching oncolytic viruses, which are viruses that specifically attack tumour cells. He wants to use them as a decoy to activate our immune system, and thus contribute to immunotherapy against cancer. One strategy is for oncolytic viruses to infect the tumour so that our defence cells, seeking to eliminate the viruses, end up eliminating the tumour: the equivalent of disguising tumours as viruses.

Read full interview

Claudio Joazeiro: “Our knowledge about protein quality control will lead to new ways to approach cancer, neurodegeneration and aging”

Claudio Joazeiro (Brazil, 1968) studies how cells control the quality of their proteins. He wants to find out how cells know when proteins are aberrant or damaged, and how they decide on ways to either correct or eliminate them. “Protein quality control is critical to ensure cellular fitness”, he explains. “Defective protein quality control is a hallmark of neurodegenerative diseases”.

Read full interview

Tak W. Mak, immunologist: “I am not doing science for recognition”

Tak W. Mak (Hong Kong, 1946) is the author of some of the major findings of recent decades on the causes and treatment of cancer. His discovery of the T-cell receptor –a mechanism by which the body identify invaders— made cancer immunotherapy possible. He also paved the way to the development of new cancer drugs against specific mutations. He recently visited the Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO) at the invitation of Nabil Djouder, head of the Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group.

Read full interview

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