”la Caixa” Foundation allots 747,000 euros to basic cancer research
Madrid, 6 May 2003
”la Caixa” Foundation has selected six research projects in its First Grants Competition for Oncology Research. These studies, presented by scientific teams from Madrid (2), Barcelona (2), Lleida and Oviedo, focus largely on understanding cancer at the genic and molecular level. The competition thus reflects a general trend in cancer research, through which the latest techniques in molecular biology and recent findings on the human genome are used to help discover the origin and development of this disease.
In this, its First Grants Competition for Oncology Research, ”la Caixa” Foundation has selected the teams headed by Doctors Martí Aldea Malo of the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Lleida; Susana Alemany de la Peña of the Biomedical Research Institute (CSIC) of Madrid; Fátima Gebauer of the Centre for Genomic Regulation of Barcelona; Carlos López Otín of the University Institute of Oncology of the University of Oviedo; Marcos Malumbres of the National Centre for Oncological Research of Madrid and Manuel Pera Román of the Hospital Clínic of Barcelona.
Set up in 2002, the competition seeks to promote basic and clinical cancer research in Spain, reinforce the material and human infrastructure of the country’s scientific teams and encourage the diffusion of the knowledge gained in order to benefit those affected by this disease. The initiative model here has been the Grants Competition for Research into Neurodegenerative Diseases of ”la Caixa” Foundation, which this year will be held for the seventh consecutive time.
The candidate projects for this competition were evaluated by the National Agency of Evaluation and Prospects (ANEP) and, subsequently selected by the Scientific Advisory Committee of ”la Caixa” Foundation, whose members are Joan Rodés, Research Director of the Hospital Clínic; José M. Mato, Head of the Department of Hepatology and Genic Therapy of the University of Navarre; Jesús Ávila, Professor of Chemistry of the UAM (Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa); José Ángel Bercinao, Head of the Neurology Service of the Marqués de Valdecillas Hospital of Santander; and Roderic Guigó, Head of the IMIM Laboratory for Genomic Information Technology of Barcelona.
The research methods of the six winning projects give priority to understanding cancer from a genic and molecular viewpoint. Although these scientific teams all work along similar lines, their research aims fall into three main groups. The first group, which includes the studies directed by Dr Martí Aldea Malo and Dr Fátima Gebauer Hernández, focus on the processes of cellular proliferation. The second, which comprises the projects headed by Dr Carlos López Otín and Dr Susana Alemany de la Peña, has the study of the genetic bases of cancer as its principal objective. The third group, which includes the projects by Dr Manuel Pera Román and Dr Marcos Malumbres Martínez, despite sharing in large part the methods and interests of the aforementioned projects, is characterised by the immense effort devoted to the design of new diagnostic tools for the disease or to the evaluation of drugs for combating it.
*Studies on cellular proliferation
Two research teams subsidised by ”la Caixa” Foundation centre on the proteins involved in cellular proliferation. It is a known fact that tumours are produced as a result of the uncontrolled proliferation of cells in different parts of the body. Thus, one way of understanding cancer-causing mechanisms is to determine the action of the proteins implied in the processes of cellular growth and division, finding out the molecular alterations that trigger errors in these mechanisms. The discovery of the substances involved in these balances may lead, in a second stage, to the designing of treatments capable of normalising these processes.
The team headed by Dr Martí Aldea Malo, of the Faculty of Medicine at University of Lleida, will study the interaction between two proteins, cyclins and CDKs, at the end of the G1 phase of the cellular cycle, during which the processes of differentiation and cellular proliferation are begun. The knowledge acquired regarding these mechanisms could help in designing drugs to control the proliferation of cancerous cells.
Dr Fátima Gebauer Hernández and her team at the Centre for Genomic Regulation (Barcelona) will focus their work on a protein known as p27kip1, which may be involved in processes of cellular proliferation. Dr Gebauer’s team will attempt to establish how these proteins are produced and what types of cancer can result from alterations of these processes. They will also seek to identify substances capable of regulating p27kip1 activity and thus applicable for treating these tumours.
*The genetic origin of cancer
The community of cancer researchers currently favours the idea that the vast majority of cancerous processes have a genetic base. Hence, one of the possible ways of tackling this disease consists of finding the genes involved in the appearance of tumours. ”la Caixa” Foundation will finance two research projects in this area. Both use the latest tools in molecular biology to ascertain the relation between certain genetic alterations and the cause of cancer.
The team of Dr Carlos López Otín, of the University Institute of Oncology of the University of Oviedo, will examine the relation of certain types of cancer with genetic alterations of two proteases, FACE 1 and FACE 2. This study, which will be performed on genetically modified mice, may open the door to new anti-tumour drugs that would use these molecules as therapeutic targets.
The team led by Dr Susana Alemany de la Peña, from the Biomedical Research Institute (CSIC, Madrid), will focus its attention on a gene known as COT, which is involved in the transformation of normal cells into cancerous ones. The aim is to verify which types of tumours are associated with anomalies caused by this gene, determine the routes regulating its activity and begin the search for drugs capable of inhibiting these processes.
*Diagnostic tools and drug evaluation
The other research projects subsidised through this competition study particular types of cancer (oesophago-gastric in one case and lung and pituitary in the other). Their common characteristic is that both share the objective of improvement or development of protocols with specific applications to the follow-up and treatment of the disease, whether these involve the design of new diagnostic methods in cancer growth or the evaluation of drugs employed in chemotherapy.
Dr Manuel Pera Román and his team at the Institute of Digestive Diseases at the Hospital Clínic (Barcelona) will assess the role of angiopoietin-2, cyclooxygenase-2 and the proteases in the formation of blood vessels in oesophago-gastric tumours, and evaluate the efficiency of the inhibitor substances of the COX-2 protein for preventing these tumours. The analysis methods arising from their results will make it possible to decide the most adequate type of treatment for each patient suffering from oesophago-gastric cancer, and could pave the way for the use of COX-2 inhibitor substances in treating this disease.
The team headed by Dr Marcos Malumbres Martínez, of the National Centre for Oncological Research (Madrid) will study samples of mice that have been genetically modified with biochip technology, with the purpose of establishing the genetic modifications associated with the spread of lung and pituitary cancers. This same technology will also be used to evaluate the efficacy of flavopiridol, a drug used in chemotherapy. The results thus obtained could contribute to designing improved drugs and to adjusting their doses of administration without having to resort to testing on human beings.
”la Caixa” Foundation and the fight against cancer
The research grants competition is part of “Society and Cancer”, a new programme set up by ”la Caixa” Foundation and devoted to oncology. The programme also includes social intervention actions for cancer patients and joint efforts with other institutions committed to the fight against this disease.
These social intervention actions seek to aid and support cancer patients and their families. Last year, as part of this programme, ”la Caixa” Foundation signed six collaboration agreements with non-profit organisations. These assistance projects, to which ”la Caixa” Foundation allotted 177,000 euros, are oriented towards three respective groups of patients: women with breast cancer, families with children suffering from leukaemia and patients in the terminal phases of the disease.