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CNIO Friends Newsletter 48

21.02.2024

Help us to eliminate cancer

EDITORIAL

Antonio Pérez-Martínez (second from the left, at the back), with his group from the Paediatric Haematology and Oncology Clinical Research Unit IdiPAZ-CNIO. Credit: Pilar Gil / CNIO.Antonio Pérez-Martínez (second from the left, at the back), with his group from the Paediatric Haematology and Oncology Clinical Research Unit IdiPAZ-CNIO. Credit: Pilar Gil / CNIO.

Dear friends of CNIO,

We are delighted to be able to start with some very good news. Two magnificent researchers have joined CNIO, with their respective teams, to work towards two crucial challenges: bringing personalised cancer therapies to children as well; and understanding why cancer risk increases with obesity.

The new  IdiPAZ-CNIO Paediatric Haematology and Oncology  Clinical Research Unit, led by the head of Paediatric Oncology at La Paz Hospital, Antonio Pérez, will develop established immunotherapies in adults, new mechanisms for attacking brain tumours and also test new drugs. The Interaction between Organs in Metabolic Diseases Group is led by Guadalupe Sabio, who has been researching the relationship between metabolism and cardiovascular disease, diabetes and cancer for more than a decade.

Obesity is an increasingly widespread problem in our society and is, therefore, one of the factors that contribute to the substantial estimated increase (47%) in the overall incidence of cancer in the next 20 years. This figure from the International Agency for Research on Cancer(IARC) was one of the focal points of our campaign for World Cancer Day,  on 4th February, which you may have seen on social media and in public spaces.

Thanks to the altruistic collaboration of none other than José Mota, the video and the creativity of the campaign are successfully spreading a message that you all know very well: “Let’s be part of the solution. More research, less cancer”.

These words are fully endorsed by the recent findings obtained by CNIO groups. Luis Paz-Ares, head of the CNIO-H12O Lung Cancer Research Unit, has coordinated a clinical trial with a new drug for previously treated small cell lung cancer. The h12O-CNIO Haematological Tumours Clinical Research Unit  has discovered that multiple myeloma can be caused by viruses, which opens up new pathways for treatment.

In addition, Solip Park, head of the Computational Cancer Genomics Group, has found that in a hundred genes known to cause monogenic  diseases, there are also likely to be alterations that predispose to cancer.

In recent months, we have also appealed to the generosity of patients. Thanks to their collaboration, a large multidisciplinary team will be able to create “digital twins” –computational models – of women with cancer, to study their -virtual- response to possible treatments.

Furthermore, donations of brain metastasis biopsies, also from patients, allow us to access an invaluable study resource. The RENACER project has created in the CNIO biobank the first global collection of live samples of brain metastases, which will help accelerate the development of personalised therapies.

Metastasis was the central theme of the meeting in which leading international researchers presented advances in treatment and early diagnosis methods, such as liquid biopsy. The application of this technique to pancreatic cancer, which seeks to detect the disease via a blood test, also brought together European leaders in this area at CNIO for the AGM of the PANCAID project.

As you know, here at CNIO we make great efforts to get closer to everyone. The youngest audiences are among the hardest to sway, but researchers Neibla Priego and Isabel Espejo did just that during the Instagram livestream broadcast on the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. They talked about their day-to-day lives as scientists with their highly infectious passion for research. Check them out on Instagram @CNIOStopcancer! By the way, both Neibla and Isabel came to CNIO thanks to you, with a Friends of CNIO contract.

I’ll sign off for now, but not before I introduce you all to the new work of art currently on display at CNIO: Ignota by artist Clara Montoya, a revolving sculpture created during the first CNIO artist-in-residence programme, launched by the Spanish Science and Technology Foundation (FECYT) to promote the interrelationship between science and art.

Ignota will be on display at CNIO’s stand at the ARCO art fair alongside End (two prologues), the audiovisual piece created through collaboration between artist Dora García and ecologist David Nogués-Bravo. It has been developed within the seventh edition of CNIO Arte, our programme funded by Fundación Banco de Santander as a way to bring science to society through art.

Let me end by thanking you once again for your constant support of CNIO.

Warmest wishes,
Maria A. Blasco

 

MEET THE “FRIENDS OF CNIO” CONTRACT RESEARCHERS

RAYAN NASER

Rayan Naser, at the Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group lab. Credit: Esther Sánchez / CNIO.Rayan Naser, at the Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group lab. Credit: Esther Sánchez / CNIO.

In this occasion, we would like to present Rayan Nasser, who joined the Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group in june 2023 with support of a CNIO Friends contract. Born in 1988 in Beirut (Lebanon), she has previously worked at the American University and the American Lebanese University in her hometown, and at the King Abdullah University (Saudi Arabia).

Her research focuses on a protein complex called URI, whose structure she aims to “clarify to understand its behaviour and see how its alteration induces cancer.” To this end, Rayan will use protein engineering, biochemistry and electron cryo-microscopy. She would also like to use her findings as a basis to propose new therapeutic approaches based on altering this protein complex.

What did attract you to cancer research?

In the beginning, I was attracted by biology in general. The human body as a whole is very interesting for me. Initially I wanted to work in an area related to human biology, where I could understand the little things about how this huge organism works. Then I felt the need to direct my work to an area that would make a difference, and cancer is a disease that affects so many people. So I ended up here in cancer research and I love it.

What is your favourite thing about your job?

It is a job where you work for hours, days and months on lots of different things. But when you bring together all the pieces of the puzzle and assemble the big picture, that is so rewarding. I love when you finally see the end result and have the opportunity to present it as a bigger answer. That’s what I work for.

What was the main reason for you to come to CNIO?

I was looking for international exposure that could bring me a better professional development. The CNIO is a recognised research institution and there is diversity in its scientific community. I like that it is so multidisciplinary. As such, I decided to join CNIO to excel in my career path without compromising on the quality of my work, because CNIO offered that opportunity.

What do you like most about working at the CNIO?

I come from the Middle East and that can sometimes be a challenging environment for scientific research.

What I really enjoy about working here in Spain is that I can generate my own ideas, investigate novel research directions, and make substantial contributions to my subject. Additionally, I love the ease of effective collaboration across the centre, which really enhances the work. When you have a scientific question that is hard to address in your own group, there are so many groups and units that you can work together with to find solutions.  The units at CNIO are not just service units, the staff will work with you on solving problems and developing exciting new opportunities to investigate.

What do you want to be doing in 10 years?

Ideally, I would like to combine all my different areas of experience in neuroscience, cancer cell biology and structural biology together in one lab. I want to continue studying cell biology to see how cells function and communicate. My aim is to work towards tailoring ways to interfere with the cell with the ultimate goal of advancing in the development of more effective therapeutics for cancer treatment.

I am so grateful to the CNIO Friends program for enabling my post-doc here at the CNIO. It’s been such a privilege.

 

FEATURED

A new unit and group to study paediatric cancers and the role of metabolism in cancer

The figures for childhood cancers appear paradoxical at first sight: they are considered rare diseases, they account for only 0.5% of new cancer cases, but they are the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in Europe. However, eight out of ten cases are cured. It is important to note that these are different diseases from cancers in adults. Much less is known about them, and therapies to combat them have advanced much less.

The new IdiPAZ-CNIO Paediatric Haematology and Oncology Joint Clinical Research Unit seeks to apply new advanced therapies and personalised medicine to children with cancer. And this is a matter of urgency, according to Antonio Pérez-Martínez, head of this unit and of the Paediatric Haematology and Oncology service at the Hospital Universitario de La Paz (Madrid), and director of the CRIS Advanced Therapies Unit at the Hospital Universitario de La Paz. In cases that do not respond to chemotherapy, they are already applying treatments that take advantage of the patient’s own immune system to attack tumour cells.

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Guadalupe Sabio (bottom row, middle) and her team at the CNIO. Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO

Desde el también nuevo Grupo de Interacción entre órganos en las enfermedades metabólicas, Guadalupe Sabio y su equipo explorarán la relación entre obesidad, estrés y cáncer. El factor común entre ellos es el metabolismo, la especialidad de Sabio, que también tiene relación con la adaptación del organismo al ciclo noche-día. Gracias a sus investigaciones en esa dirección, ya han conseguido hallazgos que podrían ayudar a detectar precozmente enfermedades debidas a la acumulación de grasa en el hígado y también a evitar que esa acumulación desemboque en la formación de tumores.

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CNIO SCIENTIFIC NEWS

103 genes with alterations that cause inherited diseases also increase the risk of cancer

Solip Park. Credit: Laura M. Lombardía. CNIO.Solip Park. Credit: Laura M. Lombardía. CNIO.

Cancer predisposition genes increase the chances of getting the disease, but only a hundred of them are known. Research published in Genome Medicine has found that 103 genes that cause other inherited diseases may also predispose to cancer.

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Seeing is researching. A visual gallery of CNIO’s Microscopy Unit shows the importance of imaging in the study of cancer

Leica SP8 confocal image by image specialist Manuel Pérez, CNIO Confocal Microscopy Unit.Leica SP8 confocal image by image specialist Manuel Pérez, CNIO Confocal Microscopy Unit.

Six stunning images show the inside of the human body at high resolution: cellular structures, possible new pharmacological targets, blood vessels… They have been obtained through a fundamental technique in cancer research, confocal microscopy, which has an entire unit at CNIO.

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Trial treatments against metastasis include bacteria, drugs for high blood pressure and neurotransmitter blockers

Participants at the congress CNIO-Caixa Research Frontiers Meeting ‘Metastasis’. Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO.Participants at the congress CNIO-Caixa Research Frontiers Meeting ‘Metastasis’. Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO.

Leaders of global research in metastases presented a series of findings at CNIO that identify metastasis as a phenomenon with a different biology from that of the main tumour and which probably begins much earlier than previously believed. Thanks to advances in this field, researchers are creating new ways to combat it, some of which are already in the clinical trial phase.

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A new trial treatment for previously treated small cell lung cancer shows promising results

Luis Paz-Ares, head of Oncology Department at Hospital 12 de Octubre and director of CNIO-H12O Lung Cancer Research Unit at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO). /Laura M. Lombardía. CNIO.Luis Paz-Ares, head of Oncology Department at Hospital 12 de Octubre and director of CNIO-H12O Lung Cancer Research Unit at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center (CNIO). /Laura M. Lombardía. CNIO.

Small cell lung cancer accounts for 15 percent of lung tumours. For patients in whom the cancer has spread, the three-year survival rate is six percent. The few treatment options available have barely improved in recent decades. A new paper published in The New England Journal of Medicine shows that a new treatment currently undergoing a clinical trial improves patient survival.

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The first oncogene was found more than 40 years ago. CNIO researchers have just discovered that it has a previously unknown mechanism of action

From left to right: Iván Plaza-Menacho, senior author, and first authors Julia Contreras and Hipólito Nicolás Cuesta Hernández. Credit: Esther Sánchez /CNIO.From left to right: Iván Plaza-Menacho, senior author, and first authors Julia Contreras and Hipólito Nicolás Cuesta Hernández. Credit: Esther Sánchez /CNIO.

In the late 1970s, the relationship of the c-Src gene to cancer was discovered. It was the first oncogene identified. Since then, it has been found to be involved in 50% of tumours in the colon, liver, lung, breast, prostate and pancreas. CNIO researchers have now discovered that this oncogene is capable of ‘self-activating’ through a molecular mechanism not previously described. The finding has repercussions when developing new drugs.

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The world's first collection of live brain metastases samples will help each patient to receive the most effective therapy for them

Sample prepared, classified and conserved at the CNIO Biobank. Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO.Sample prepared, classified and conserved at the CNIO Biobank. Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO.

In 18 Spanish hospitals, when patients with brain metastasis undergo a surgical procedure, they can donate a tiny part of their brain to the first repository of live brain metastases samples in the world, based at CNIO (National Cancer Research Centre). It is the first collection in the world created to accelerate the search for therapies against brain metastasis, a disease that affects up to 30% of patients with systemic cancer.

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The ‘Digital twins’ project is seeking 300 women with advanced cancer to create virtual models of their disease that can help future patients

Intra-Venus statue by artist Marina Vargas, exhibited at CNIO main entrance. The sculpture reproduces a breast cancer patient after undergoing partial mastectomy. Credit: Esther Sánchez. CNIO.Intra-Venus statue by artist Marina Vargas, exhibited at CNIO main entrance. The sculpture reproduces a breast cancer patient after undergoing partial mastectomy. Credit: Esther Sánchez. CNIO.

Digital twins are computer models of women with breast, lung or colon cancer participating in the study. They are constructed from countless biomedical and behavioural data of patients, and using artificial intelligence CNIO is leading a project to recruit current cancer patients whose data will serve as the basis for creating these simulations. So, in the future, women with cancer will have predictive models that help anticipate the course of their disease, evaluate which treatments are most likely to work, and even guide the patient’s habits in ways that favour their therapy.

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OUR CENTRE

José Mota’s “whirring mind” on World Cancer Day

The comedian starred altruistically in a video for our campaign to mark World Cancer Day, on 4th February, because “cancer affects us all (…) and I want to live in a society capable of standing up to it”. With the slogan Let’s be part of the solution. More research, less cancer, the video focused on advances made through science. The donations will be used entirely to hire young researchers through the ‘Friends of CNIO’ initiative.

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EVA Ortega-Paíno, scientific director of the CNIO Biobank, new General Secretary of Research

Eva Ortega at CNIOEva Ortega at CNIO's entrance. Credit: Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO.

Molecular biochemist Eva Ortega Paíno, scientific director of the CNIO Biobank,  was appointed the new General Secretary of Research at the Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities by the Council of Ministers on 27th December 2023. Her 30 years of experience have been developed within the healthcare sector, higher education and the biotechnology industry, mainly in oncology.

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Egyptian scientist Marwa M. Abu-Serie Ali is conducting research at CNIO to investigate a nanopharmaceutical against metastasis

Left: Marwa M. Abu-Serie, near her lab at CNIO. Credit: Pilar Gil Villar /CNIO. Right: Ngozi Justina Nwodo in CNIO’s gardens. Credit: Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO.Left: Marwa M. Abu-Serie, near her lab at CNIO. Credit: Pilar Gil Villar /CNIO. Right: Ngozi Justina Nwodo in CNIO’s gardens. Credit: Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO.

Marwa M. Abu-Serie Ali is creating nanoparticles with a compound that fights cancer stem cells. Over the course of six months, she is investigating its effect on the enzyme telomerase. Nigerian biochemist Ngozi Justina Nwodo has also been at CNIO, studying compounds from a legume used in traditional medicine in Kenya against cancer. Both are beneficiaries of the “Science by Women ” programme funded by the Women for Africa Foundation.

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CNIO’s youngest researchers develop their “huge potential”

Closing image of Lab Day 2023, with organizers and participants at CNIO. Credit: Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO.Closing image of Lab Day 2023, with organizers and participants at CNIO. Credit: Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO.

Almost 30% of CNIO staff are PhD students: 140 young people who are starting their scientific career in a leading international centre, providing energy, curiosity and a fresh perspective on challenges in the line of knowledge advancement. All these ingredients were present at the XIII edition of CNIO Lab Day, an open day at which the youngest researchers present their work and receive tips from established researchers to develop their career.

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May science come up front much longer than a week!

Visita de estudiantes a nuestros laboratorios durante la Semana de la Ciencia. Crédito: Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO. Visita de estudiantes a nuestros laboratorios durante la Semana de la Ciencia. Crédito: Laura M. Lombardía / CNIO.

To explain to society what we do, during Science Week at CNIO (National Cancer Research Centre) we rely on the human factor, combined with advanced technology. At this edition, we met with students from the Leonardo da Vinci-Moralzarzal and IES Clara Campoamor schools in Móstoles.

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CNIO Arte Exhibition at the Cervantes Institute in Chicago

Institutional presentation by Maria Blasco, CNIO director and Juan de Nieves, curator of the exhibition and head of Institutional Image and Science and Culture Activities of the CNIO / Credits: Courtesy Instituto Cervantes Chicago.Institutional presentation by Maria Blasco, CNIO director and Juan de Nieves, curator of the exhibition and head of Institutional Image and Science and Culture Activities of the CNIO / Credits: Courtesy Instituto Cervantes Chicago.

The exhibition Dialogues between art and science was held at the headquarters of the Cervantes Institute in Chicago (USA) from 26th October 2023 to 25th January 2024. This exhibition featured a selection of works by contemporary Spanish artists created from the research of leading international scientists in their field. All of them were created within the framework of CNIO Arte, an initiative run by the National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) with the support of Fundación Banco Santander to promote the relationship between art and science.

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CNIO goes ‘live’ on Instagram to talk about science with teenagers (and everyone else)

Our researchers Neibla Priego and Isabel Espejo participated in a livestream broadcast on our Instagram account to mark the International Day of Women and Girls in Science. There they shared what the life of two young women in science is like: what has led them to do what they do, their obstacles and rewards, their day-to-day life, their aspirations… They also answered questions from members of the public and explained what the Friends of CNIO programme entails, which funded both of their contracts, in Isabel’s case largely through the financial contributions of L’Oreal España and its brand La Roche-Posay.

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EVENTS

DISTINGUISHED SEMINARS -The time we eat does matter. The researcher who discovered the first biological clock gene in mammals relates biorhythms to longevity

Joseph Takahashi, at the entrance of the CNIO /Esther Sanchez. CNIO.Joseph Takahashi, at the entrance of the CNIO /Esther Sanchez. CNIO.

Neurobiologist Joseph Takahashi visited CNIO as a guest speaker. He has spent decades deciphering how the biological clock works and its role in our behaviour, after discovering the first gene related to it in mammals. He has shown that one method that prolongs life in model animals is more effective if it takes into account biological rhythms. Takahashi believes “that the biological clock is the basis of all mechanisms related to longevity,” he said.

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PHILOSOPHY AND SCIENCE DAY - Halting the sixth mass extinction of species requires an economy that respects nature, warn philosophers and ecologists

Participants at the 5th Philosophy and Science Day./ Laura M. Lombardia. CNIO.Participants at the 5th Philosophy and Science Day./ Laura M. Lombardia. CNIO.

Participants in the 5th Philosophy and Science Day at the National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) discussed the “catastrophe” of biodiversity loss.

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