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‘CNIO Friends’ contracts fund research into cancer-related big data and epidemiology


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Vera Pancaldi and Paulina Gómez Vera Pancaldi (left) and Paulina Gómez (right). /CNIO

This philanthropic initiative has awarded its first two research grants

The beneficiaries stress the value of citizen engagement in funding basic research

At the beginning of the year, the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) organised the first recruitment programme funded by donations from the CNIO Friends philanthropic initiative. Now, after a thorough assessment of the candidates, we have chosen two: Vera Pancaldi and Paulina Gómez, who will be able to continue their research projects at the Centre thanks to the generosity of our donors.

Both stressed the crucial importance of philanthropy as a driving force in scientific research and the difference between the Anglo-Saxon system – where philanthropy is fully integrated- and our country’s practices.

“When I arrived from the UK, I was surprised that a centre like the CNIO did not have a philanthropy programme,” recalls Pancaldi. Donations and donors are commonplace there, as in the United States, where Gómez prepared her doctorate. “Every day we had a visit from a donor,” she says.

Thus, they agree on the importance of CNIO Friends, “an interesting idea that will surely be of great significance, although there is still much work to be done on social awareness”, says Gómez. Indeed, one of the main goals of this initiative is to build a more direct and closer with the people because, as Pancaldi noted, “we work for society so it makes sense that society should help us”.

Vera Pancaldi

An expert in Computational Biology, Pancaldi came to the CNIO in 2012 from the University of Cambridge (United Kingdom) where she began to work on what has become her speciality: epigenetic data analysis and its integration with the 3D structure of DNA.

“The context in which the DNA sequence combines with epigenetic data is what results in the phenotype, which is important when analysing tumours because these factors influence their aggressiveness,” explains Pancaldi. Her work, which she can continue thanks to this grant, focuses on developing tools capable of matching the enormous amount of data on the three-dimensional structure of DNA with the equally huge amount of epigenetic information. This information is crucial when it comes to linking certain features of the cells with the onset of cancer.

Pancaldi belongs to the Structural Computational Biology Group headed by Alfonso Valencia. The projects in which she has participated include the Blueprint Project, a European plan dedicated to the epigenetic study of haematopoietic cells (blood) and their relationship with various diseases, or her collaboration with Peter Fraser, from the Babraham Institute (UK), on integrating data on the structure and epigenetics of DNA.

Paulina Gómez

For the past three years, Gómez has been working with the Genetic and Molecular Epidemiology Group, headed by Núria Malats. Her research mainly focuses on PanGenEU, a large European study involving six countries that delves into the relationship between multiple risk factors and pancreatic cancer, one of the carcinomas with the highest mortality rates today.

“One of the main objectives is to find those factors that help to define the population at greatest risk to offer them the chance to join a screening programme and thus facilitate the early diagnosis of the disease,” says Gómez.

This fellowship will enable her to continue taking part in this ambitious project, which analyses the possible connection of dozens of factors (both genetic and environmental) to the risk of developing pancreatic cancer. One of the latest papers published within the framework of this research project established the inverse association between this disease and nasal allergies. This paper recently won the 2nd Prize of the Spanish Epidemiology Association to the best original paper.

About ‘CNIO Friends’

The CNIO Friends initiative arose in late 2014 with the purpose of raising funds to finance various research projects developed at the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre and, thus, persevere in our efforts to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. To date, we have more than 700 donors whose generosity has allowed the introduction of three post-doctoral fellowships to study this disease.

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