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CNIO to give seven new fellowship awards to cancer researchers thanks to ‘CNIO Friends’ support


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With almost 1.8 million euros donated so far by over 1,500 donors and 900,000 euros raised via charitable bequests, CNIO’s philanthropic platform is celebrating its fifth anniversary

The ‘CNIO Friends’ International Contract Programme engages new talent and helps develop innovative cancer research on metastasis, childhood cancer, kidney and liver tumours, and other types of cancer

A number of institutions, foundations and companies, such as Juegaterapia, L’Oréal España or Asisa Vida, as well as individuals and patients’ associations, have actively and directly supported the programme

This year, Humanismo y Ciencia Foundation is funding a two-year project for the development of preclinical models for the study of tumours and the design of new therapeutic tools

Once again, the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) is calling for applications from young cancer researchers, thanks to the funds provided by the philanthropic platform ‘CNIO Friends’. ‘CNIO Friends’ International Contract Programme is highly competitive, increasing the number of fellowships every year thanks to its robust donor community. In 2020, up to seven new research positions will be available, giving the selected applicants the opportunity to undertake postdoctoral research at a centre at the forefront of cancer research worldwide. The fellowship call will be open for applications until 15 July.

Five years supporting cancer research

The ‘CNIO Friends’ initiative was launched by CNIO in late 2014, with the aim to promote individual philanthropy as a source of additional funds for research, as well as to bring CNIO closer to society. With almost 1.8 million euros donated so far by over 1,500 donors and 900,000 euros raised via charitable bequests, the initiative is celebrating its fifth anniversary. In 2019 alone, the CNIO raised 800,000 euros which marks the highest annual total since the launch of ‘CNIO Friends’.

Thanks to these funds, the ‘CNIO Friends’ International Contract Programme has attracted fresh talent and developed innovative cancer research. So far, 13 researchers have joined CNIO to carry out research on metastasis, childhood cancer or kidney and liver cancer, among other lines of research. Some of the projects carried out with the support of ‘CNIO Friends’ in the past were those conducted by Neibla Priego on the anti-tumour potential of silybin in brain metastasis treatment. The study was published in Nature Medicine in 2018. In 75% of the patients who participated in the first trial, silybin showed its efficacy. At present, researchers are studying whether this finding might help design new treatments and diagnostic procedures for brain metastasis.

In the last five years, a number of institutions and foundations have supported the programme: Juegaterapia generously provided full grant funding for one researcher and other companies such as L’Oréal España, Exterior Plus and Asisa Vida have donated critical funds to grow the programme.

This year Humanismo y Ciencia Foundation has joined the programme, giving 100,000 euros to fund a two-year project for the development of preclinical tumour models.

Cancer goes beyond the uncontrolled growth of malignant cells. It is a complex ecosystem, characterised by multiple interactions between cancer cells and the tumour environment in the body. ‘Preclinical animal models help us understand these interactions and find novel therapeutic strategies against all types of tumours before we can test them with patients,’ says CNIO Director María Blasco.

Mouse models are widely used in cancer research because of their phylogenetic relatedness to humans (the two species have numerous genetic similarities). In addition, the mouse genome can be altered to generate genetically-modified mouse models. To this end, increasingly sophisticated technologies like CRISPR/Cas, which enables researchers to edit parts of the genome, are being used by several groups at CNIO. In the last few years, genome editing has revolutionised the study of a wide variety of diseases, including cancer.

In the field of cancer research, animal models mimic human tumours as accurately as possible and are used to examine the effects of experimental drugs or to study how they are affected by genetic changes. Now, the ‘CNIO Friends’-Humanismo y Ciencia Foundation Postdoctoral Contract will contribute to the development of preclinical animal models. ‘We are deeply grateful to the Foundation and its interest in contributing to CNIO’s research programmes. We hope our joint efforts will bear fruit,’ says Dr Blasco.

Humanismo y Ciencia Foundation is a not-for-profit private institution established in 1997, registered with the Ministry of Education and Science. The Foundation, which pursues general interest purposes, funds scientific studies that contribute to human development and progress, and disseminates their results.

From protein structure to the potential of immunotherapy

Currently, researchers carrying out their projects at CNIO thanks to ‘CNIO Friends’ are:

Elena Fueyo: She is studying the molecular mechanisms underlying how cancer cells avoid immune system attacks. Understanding these mechanisms is a major step towards developing new immunotherapies – a type of cancer treatment that is tumour-targeted and thus has fewer side effects than conventional therapies (Genomic Instability Group).

Rebeca Jimeno: She is studying triple-negative breast cancer, one of the most aggressive types of breast cancer with no specific treatments to date, to find the most effective therapeutic combinations (Breast Cancer Clinical Research Unit).

Carolina Maestre: She is analysing whether by blocking a molecule involved in tumour cell survival during cell division, you can stop tumour growth (Cell Division and Cancer Group).

Rubén Martínez: He is exploring the changes in the RET oncogene in some types of cancer, such as lung and breast cancer, and neuroblastoma (Kinases, Protein Phosphorylation and Cancer Group).

María Moreno: She is doing research into the 3-D structure of CAD protein, which is overexpressed in all types of cancer, in order to develop new therapies (Genome Integrity and Structural Biology Group).

Sarita Saraswati: She is examining the role of telomere dysfunction in the origin of kidney and liver fibrosis, which in advanced stages may lead to kidney and liver cancer (Telomeres and Telomerase Group).

Moustafa Ahmed Shehata: He is analysing the 3-D structure of kinases, proteins that play a role in the origin and development of cancer and in resistance to chemotherapy, with the aim of improving treatments (Kinases, Protein Phosphorylation and Cancer Group).

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