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Two CNIO researchers receive funding from the Ramón Areces Foundation to conduct research into bladder cancer and brain metastases

21.04.2021

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Núria Malats and Eva Ortega-Paíno, CNIO Núria Malats (left) and Eva Ortega-Paíno (right). /A. Garrido, CNIO

Núria Malats from the CNIO and Ravid Straussman from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel will lead a project to study the microbiome of an aggressive and little-studied type of bladder cancer, to improve available treatments and help uro-oncologists make the most appropriate therapeutic decisions for their patients

Eva Ortega-Paíno will bolster the National Brain Metastasis Network that she has promoted at the CNIO together with Manuel Valiente to establish a collection of samples that can be used in the study of these metastases

The researchers Núria Malats and Eva Ortega-Paíno from the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) have received a grant from the Ramón Areces Foundation for Research in Life and Materials Sciences, which celebrates this year its twentieth call for applications. These grants will enable them to boost two projects to study bladder cancer and brain metastases, respectively; there are currently limited therapeutic options for these two types of cancer.

Their projects were selected from among 900 applications from across the country. The Ramón Areces Foundation’s Research in Life and Materials Sciences grants aim to promote Spanish scientific research, particularly in areas that require special attention or are of interest to present-day society.

At the forefront of cancer research together with the Weizmann Institute of Science

Núria Malats, Head of the CNIO’s Genetic & Molecular Epidemiology Group, will embark on a collaborative project with researcher Ravid Straussman from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel to study the bladder cancer microbiome. Paco Real, head of the CNIO’s Epithelial Carcinogenesis Group, will also participate in the project. “Human tissues, and also tumours, harbour different species of bacteria, which make up the so-called microbiome,” explains Malats. “In most cases, our knowledge about their number, identity or effects is still rudimentary. Our proposal focuses on studying the microbiome of high-grade non-muscle-invasive bladder cancer, an aggressive and poorly studied subgroup of bladder cancer.”

In our study, we will characterise the profile of the microbiome. We will analyse its association with the infiltration of tumours by immune cells (B and T lymphocytes, macrophages, etc.) and its influence on the patient response to BCG, the standard immunological treatment for this type of cancer.

By bringing together the specific epidemiological, statistical, bioinformatics, molecular biology and microbiomics expertise of all team members, the researchers hope their findings will help to design new clinical trials to improve the treatment of high-grade non-muscle-invasive bladder tumours. They also hope to identify predictive biomarkers of response to BCG treatment, which will help uro-oncologists make the best therapeutic decisions.

The project cost amounts to 300,000 euros over the next three years, half of which is funded by the Ramón Areces Foundation, and the other half by the CNIO and the Weizmann Institute of Science.

This is the second collaborative project between the CNIO and the Israeli centre, which is also involved in a joint research project on melanoma metastasis of Marisol Soengas, head of the CNIO Melanoma Group, and Yardena Samuels from the Weizmann Institute of Science. These projects are the result of an institutional collaboration agreement between the CNIO, the Israeli Centre and the Ramón Areces Foundation to advance cancer prevention and treatment.

Systematising the study of brain metastasis

Eva Ortega-Paíno, Scientific Director of CNIO Biobank, will reinforce the implementation, development and coordination of RENACER, the recently launched National Brain Metastasis Network, to create a collection of samples that can be used in brain metastasis research, among other uses.

Between 10 and 30% of all cancer patients develop brain metastases, especially from breast, lung and skin tumours. Two of the main challenges in cancer research lie in understanding why some tumour cells manage to overcome the brain’s strong defensive barriers against metastases and developing therapies against this phenomenon.

Following its recent launch together with Manuel Valiente, Head of the CNIO’s Brain Metastasis Group, RENACER already includes 13 hospitals throughout Spain and this funding will be essential to carry out its two main objectives: on the one hand, to establish a circuit for the collection and processing of the samples obtained during the neurosurgeries carried out by the Network member hospitals; and on the other hand, to carry out molecular characterisation and treatment response studies, with which it is hoped to make significant advances in the understanding and treatment of these metastases.

“We expect both short- and long-term results,” explains Ortega-Paíno. “On the one hand, our results will translate into personalised medicine that will allow us to understand the mechanisms of the disease; on the other hand, we hope it will have a positive impact on society through the discovery of effective therapies that will improve the health and quality of life of cancer patients.”

To achieve this goal, the Ramón Areces Foundation has awarded the Network a grant of 112,000 euros over the next three years.

About the Ramón Areces Foundation

Since its creation in 1976, the Ramón Areces Foundation has focused on scientific sponsorship by promoting research, contributing to the generation of human capital, and disseminating knowledge. It carries out its activities throughout Spain in the fields of Life and Materials Sciences, Social Sciences, and Humanities.

The Foundation’s main objectives are to contribute to the creation of a solid scientific and technological structure in Spain to improve people’s lives and find solutions to the challenges that modern society is facing, especially in the economic and educational spheres. The institution also works to generate new training opportunities for young researchers and promote the exchange of ideas for the development of Science, Education, and Culture.

www.fundacionareces.es

About the CNIO

The CNIO is a Spanish public institution dedicated to the research, diagnosis and treatment of cancer, and affiliated to the Carlos III Institute of Health (Ministry of Science, Innovation and Universities). It is one of the 10 leading cancer research centres in the world (Scimago Institutions Rankings World Report; Nature Index) and covers the entire R&D and Innovation spectrum, from basic research to the clinic, with a view to transferring the results quickly and efficiently to the National Health System and to the pharmaceutical and biotechnology market.

The CNIO has an Experimental Therapeutics Program that covers the initial stages of the development of drugs directed against the therapeutic targets its scientists are working on. Some of the CNIO’s compounds have been licensed to international pharmaceutical companies. In addition, the CNIO is actively involved in ‘open innovation’ programs of international pharmaceutical companies, which has resulted in an influx of more than 25 million euros into the CNIO in the past 6 years. Finally, four spin-off companies have emerged from the CNIO, which have also allowed patients to benefit from the centre’s developments. These data reflect the Institution’s commitment to innovation and technology transfer and illustrate the importance of public-private collaboration for the advancement in the diagnosis and treatment of disease.

Moreover, the CNIO strives to bring science closer to society through initiatives like CNIO Arte, a project that gathers scientists and artists in the creation of a work of art based on scientific research, or CNIO Friends, a philanthropic platform where individuals, companies and organisations can make contributions to help cancer research at the Centre; the funds raised have facilitated the establishment of a competitive ‘CNIO Friends’ International Contract Programme to engage research talent.

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