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Fondation Franz Weber gives CNIO funding to attract scientific talent for using alternative techniques to animal testing in cancer research

09.09.2021

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The agreement reached by the CNIO and Fondation Franz Weber provides for the launch of the “CNIO Friends-Fondation Franz Weber” postdoctoral grant programme

The project will be developed by Albert Harguindey at the Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group, led by Nabil Djouder

By virtue of the cooperation agreement signed by Fondation Franz Weber and the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO), the “CNIO-Friends-Fondation Franz Weber” postdoctoral grant programme is being launched to study URI, an oncogene involved in liver, ovarian and other types of cancer. The programme is expected to help find novel treatments for these diseases.

The “CNIO Friends-Fondation Franz Weber” grant programme aims at offering young doctors the chance to develop research projects of excellence that use alternative techniques to animal testing. This particular project will be carried out by Albert Harguindey at the Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group, led by Nabil Djouder at the CNIO. Djouder has been studying URI and its relationship with cancer and other diseases, such as diabetes, for 20 years.

Harguindey will try to find replacements for animal testing to study the structure of the proteins in the URI complex, for instance, nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy, crystallography, computational molecular biology, protein engineering, and high-resolution electron cryomicroscopy, an imaging technique with near-atomic resolution that has made substantial progress over the past few years. “The main goal of our project is to determine the structure and behaviour of the URI protein complex, whose genetic alteration can lead to several diseases, including cancer,” Djouder says.

The cooperation between the CNIO and Fondation Franz Weber reaffirms the parties’ commitment to non-animal testing methods. “In the past few years, new techniques have been developed to reduce the use of animals in the laboratory, including computational molecular biology, big data analysis and artificial intelligence. At the CNIO, we want to join this trend,” says CNIO Director, Maria A. Blasco.

Understanding structure to know function

Studies conducted by Djouder and his team, as well as by teams in other labs, show that in various types of cancer, the URI gene is amplified and the URI prefoldins are overexpressed. Djouder has also shown that this protein complex is overexpressed in liver inflammation caused by hepatitis B and C. However, its functions have not been fully determined yet.

“Our project is aimed at determining the structure of this protein complex, which will help us understand the functions it performs,” Djouder says. Knowing the structure of proteins is useful to develop new drugs. In the past few years, the structure of a high number of proteins or molecular nanomachines has been revealed, which broadens our knowledge of diseases and facilitates the development of novel treatments.

Through this agreement, Fondation Franz Weber has become a part of CNIO Friends, an initiative launched in late 2014 to bring cancer research closer to society and promote philanthropy as a source of funding for science. To date, up to 2.4 million Euro have been contributed by more than 2000 donors, including individuals, corporations and associations.

About Fondation Franz Weber

Fondation Franz Weber was established in 1975 by Swiss environmentalist and animal welfare activist Franz Weber. It is committed to nature protection and biodiversity conservation, and focuses on the prevention of the degradation of unspoiled natural habitats. The Foundation is also a staunch advocate for animal rights, opposing cruel practices such as bullfighting or the use of pack animals.

About the CNIO

The Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) has the goal of developing new, effective approaches to preventing, diagnosing and treating cancer. It is ranked as one of the ten best cancer research centres in the world. In 2020, it was named a Severo Ochoa Centre of Excellence for the third straight time.

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