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‘CNIO Friends’ makes funds available for hiring four young researchers to look for new strategies against cancer at CNIO

31.01.2019

Help us to eliminate cancer

The new call of the International Postdoctoral Contract Programme ‘CNIO Friends’ will help CNIO to carry out new cancer and metastatic growth research projects

The International Postdoctoral Contract Programme ‘CNIO Friends’ is a competition open to international researchers funded by the individual philanthropic initiative ‘CNIO Friends’, whose community has almost 1,200 members who have given over €1.6M to cancer research projects through donations and legacies

The new contracts will help strengthen CNIO research programmes during the next two years

CNIO is one of the world’s leading cancer research centres: according to the latest Nature Index, published recently, it is the top-ranked cancer research centre in Europe and the fourth best worldwide

The Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) will hire four scientists through the International Postdoctoral Contract Programme ‘CNIO Friends’. The newly hired researchers have been selected from more than 45 applicants. “We are really happy with the reception the Programme is having, especially considering it is comparatively new,” said CNIO Director, Maria A. Blasco. ‘Applications were submitted by candidates from all over the world.”

The winners are: Rubén Martínez, who will work in the Kinases, Protein Phosphorylation and Cancer Group, headed by Iván Plaza; María Moreno, who will do her research in the Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Group, led by Rafael Fernández Leiro; Neibla Priego, who will continue working on her projects in the Brain Metastasis Group, led by Manuel Valiente; and Sarita Saraswati, who will carry out research in the Telomeres and Telomerase Group, headed by Maria A. Blasco. Over the next two years, these four scientists will look for new strategies to combat cancer.

CNIO, leading monograhic cancer research centre in Europe

CNIO Friends was launched by the end of 2014 with the aim of raising funds to attract new research talent at CNIO, one of the top cancer research centres as shown in rankings published by SCImago and Nature Index. Recently, Nature Index, which evaluates the scientific publications by over 9,000 research centres from all over the world, ranked CNIO at the top of the list among monographic cancer research centres in Europe in the healthcare and life sciences sector. CNIO is the only Spanish research centre among the top 30, and stands fourth at the global level – the only Spanish centre among the top 100 worldwide. Moreover, according to SCImago, CNIO is atop the list of the health research centres in Spain (SCImago, 2019).

The CNIO Friends community is made of almost 1,200 members, who have given more than €1.6M to CNIO, not only through donations, but also through legacies and inheritancies from people who choose to include CNIO in their wills, so their assets can contribute to improve cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Their generosity has enabled CNIO to launch the International Postdoctoral Contract Programme CNIO Friends, a high-level competition open to scientists from all over the world. To date, up to seven scientists have joined the CNIO groups thanks to these contracts, to study paediatric brain tumours or the use of big data or nanotechnology in cancer research, among other projects. At CNIO, they carry out postdoctoral stays in an environment characterised by scientific excellence, and the Centre can attract new talent.

Two of these contracts are supported by Fundación Juegaterapia through the profit made by selling the Baby Pelones dolls. Another one is actually a predoctoral contract named ‘María Oliva-CNIO Friends’, that was the result of an individual donation for supporting a student to complete their PhD degree at CNIO.

From kidney and liver cancer to brain metastasis

With the four new additions, there are now 11 researchers who have been hired by CNIO through the Contract Programme CNIO Friends:

Rubén Martínez (1978, Mexico) obtained his doctoral degree from University College London (UK), where he went back after doing postdoctoral stays at internationally renowned centres like the London Research Institute-Cancer Research UK (LRI-CRUK) or the Medical Research Council-Protein Phosphorylation and Ubiquitylation Unit (MRC-PPU) in Dundee (Scotland). Currently, he is doing research at Institut Pasteur de Lille (France). Now, at the CNIO Kinases, Protein Phosphorylation and Cancer Group, he will study the changes in the RET oncogene made by such biochemical processes as phosphorylation and ubiquitylation in lung and breast cancer, as well as in neuroblastoma, a type of cancer that develops in nerve tissue outside of the central nervous system. Martínez will pursue a detective investigation not only into the biochemical pathways that affect RET activity in the above-mentioned types of tumour but also into other proteins that usually interact with it. He will use mouse and fly cancer models to find substances capable of inhibiting RET and try to improve the treatments available today.

María Moreno (1981, Spain), who worked at the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL), had also worked at CNIO between 2015 and 2018. Later on, she moved on to do research at the Severo Ochoa-CSIC Molecular Biology Centre. Her scientific career has been focused on the role of proteins in cancer progression. Soon, she will be working in the CNIO Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Group, doing research into the 3D structure of these proteins using state-of-the-art techniques like cryogenic electron microscopy, a field where CNIO is one of the main Spanish Centres thanks to its capabilities, instrumentation and experience. Cryogenic electron microscopy has been considered by the journal Nature as one of the revolutionary technologies in the field of molecular biology in 2019. Currently, Moreno is studying the structure of CAD, a protein involved in the formation of the DNA bricks. The overexpression of CAD occurs in all types of cancer; consequently, understanding how gene mutations affect CAD structure can help find and develop cancer treatments in the future.

Neibla Priego (1987, Spain) obtained her PhD in Molecular Biology and Biomedicine from the Complutense University of Madrid, following two research stays at the Salamanca Cancer Research Centre (Spain) and KU Leuven (Belgium). Then she began her postdoctoral stay in the Brain Metastasis Group at CNIO, where she studied the molecular basis of metastasis to the brain and its progression. In June 2018, Priego was the author of an article published by Nature Medicine that describes how a compound called silibinin can be used to reduce brain metastasis in mice and patients inhibiting the STAT3 transcription factor in astrocytes. STAT3 is known to be a regulator of brain metastasis progression. The CNIO Friends contract awarded to Priego will enable her explore the potential therapeutic and diagnostic use of her findings. She will study the combination of STAT3 inhibitors with immunotherapies and look for biomarkers to predict patient response to this therapy.

Sarita Saraswati (1983, India) has worked at King Saud University (Saudi Arabia) and the Spanish National Centre for Cardiovascular Research (CNIC). In 2018, she joined the CNIO Telomeres and Telomerase Group, where she studied the role of telomere dysfunction (a telomere is a region at the end of each chromosome that protects the end of chromosomes from deterioration and is related to aging) in the origin of kidney and liver fibrosis, which causes degeneration of these organs and may lead to cancer in its advanced stages. Thanks to CNIO Friends, Saraswati will continue working with the Telomeres and Telomerase Group, creating new mice models to study the characteristics of liver cancer and chronic kidney disease in humans. She will study how telomere dysfunction begins, with the aim of finding new therapies for fibrosis and kidney and liver cancer.

Any individual, business or association can support the cancer research programmes carried out at CNIO, thus having an impact on the advancement of knowledge of cancer and helping find new treatments. Donating can be as simple as clicking a button on the CNIO website: https://www.cnio.es/en/cnio-friend/. Donations qualify for a number of fiscal incentives that are described on the site.

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