While Cancer has already been the focus of the Express issue of 1 February 2013, the ‘plague of the century’ is such a vast problem that there is not a week without its cancer-related scientific findings. In fact, as we wrote these lines, typing the words ‘cancer’ and ‘initiative’ led to a mind-blowing 95 million results on popular search engines.
A single glance at this week’s headlines showcases how ebullient cancer research is: a new study which reveals that fitness can protect us from cancer on NBC News, a new cancer drug in the Wall Street Journal, a new drug for prostate cancer, an inexpensive cancer detecting 3D-camera, etc. All across the world, scientists are working towards the eradication of a disease that is expected to affect as much as 21 million people by 2030, up from 12.7 million cancer cases diagnosed in 2008.
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Cancer treatment is one of the most important areas of research in the medical world today. With research predominately conducted in large pharmaceutical research organisations, it is rather significant to hear of small medium enterprises (SMEs) developing their own innovative treatment for cancer.
Two small research-based pharmaceutical companies BioInvent (the primary coordinator), in Sweden and Thrombogenics in Belgium, joined together with three other partners to form the ANGIOSTOP project, with EU-funding of nearly EUR 2 million. By forming a synergy between academic groups and SMEs a more focused streamlined development strategy, meant they avoided bureaucratic decision making that is an unavoidable handicap of large networks and pharmaceuticals. Together they looked at the novel anti-angiogenic treatment for cancer, arthritis and ocular neovascularization based on the inhibition of placental growth factor (PlGF).
Despite a massive research effort, cancer is still a major killer in Europe. European researchers are working on a sugar-based drug-delivery system which they believe will boost the potency of anti-cancer drugs, helping them reach and destroy cancerous cells more effectively. The project team has developed particles tiny enough to invade cancer cells and deliver treatments to the very heart of the tumour.
Potent anti-cancer drugs exist, but they struggle to distinguish between normal, healthy cells and the dangerous tumour cells. New targeted drug-delivery strategies are needed. With the help of EU funding, the Cyclon project is developing biocompatible sugar-based drug-delivery systems that could lead to a breakthrough in the fight against various cancers. The research teams are working on anti-cancer drug-delivery systems based on ‘cyclodextrins’ – a type of sugar that can be produced from potatoes, wheat, corn or rice by using 'enzymes' (molecules responsible for chemical conversions).
Cancer research has taken a huge leap forward with scientists now able to identify more than 80 genetic markers found to increase the risk of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. The COGS international research initiative is believed to be the largest of its kind.
Although the results have been widely reported, the cross-border efforts behind this monumental initiative have not. Neither has the EU-funding of EUR 12 million, which has played a significant part in making this global effort a tremendous success. The main findings of the project COGS ('Collaborative Oncological Gene-Environment Study') have been published in a special issue on genetic risk factors for cancer in the prestigious scientific journal Nature Genetics.
The research was led by scientists at the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, the University of Cambridge and the Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) in the UK, with support from more than 160 research groups worldwide. This international network brought together five global studies on 100 000 patients with breast, ovarian or prostate cancer. Another 100 000 healthy volunteers comprised a control group.
Scientists took DNA from all 200 000 subjects and compared those with cancer, and those without, to assess each individual's inherited risk.
These articles have been taken from DG Research headlines and CORDIS News, a daily news service updated every weekday lunchtime. For more research and innovation headlines, go to the CORDIS News homepage.
Focus on Innovation
Nanomedicine is gaining ground as a promising alternative to current medical practices. European researchers have successfully generated novel nanomaterial formulations with the aim to achieve controlled drug delivery using ultrasound under image guidance.
Europe is faced with demographic changes such as low birth rates and an increasingly ageing population. Long-term, this is expected to result in a large elderly population with increased morbidity that would pose a substantial socioeconomic burden.
In light of this, measures for long-term care and healthcare are of paramount importance. For oncology and cardiology-related problems in particular, new and affordable technologies are required to provide more efficient care while minimising any therapy side-effects, which is accessible to all.
The EU-funded 'Image-controlled ultrasound-induced drug delivery' (SONODRUGS) project aimed to develop nanotechnology-based systems to deliver drugs for the treatment of cardiac and cancer patients. The consortium partners designed new nanocarriers (tiny bubbles and fat particles called liposomes) which were loaded with the drug to be delivered.
Future of Research
Cancer causes some 13% of deaths worldwide. Of these deaths, some 90% are caused not by the original cancer, but by its spread to other parts of the body. These secondary cancers, known as metastases, are most often caused by 'circulating tumour cells' (CTCs) which escape from the primary tumour and travel around the body in the bloodstream. In the process, CTCs often undergo modifications that make them more resistant to treatment than the primary tumours.
Being able to capture and study CTCs would be of enormous benefit for research, to help understand the cells’ metabolism, how they colonise other organs and how they may respond to either existing or future drugs. Existing technologies, however, are unable to do this. They are only able to count CTCs in patients with advanced metastases.
This was the challenge the CAMINEMS project was set up to address in 2009. Supported by European Union (EU) funding, the three and a half year project brought together 9 partners from 5 EU Member States, with expertise in both clinical and technological areas. The aim was to create a tool for the effective screening and analysis of CTCs which could ultimately be developed to a sufficient degree of efficiency and cost-effectiveness that it could be put to practical use in day-to-day patient treatment.
Bolstering the efficiency of health-related National Contact Points (NCPs) in different parts of the world will enable global players to join EU-funded projects. Related outcomes will also enhance research and development (R&D) in the health sector.
In its bid to encourage EU-led research projects on a global scale, the EU has steadily created a strong worldwide network of health NCPs. The network has required constant training and support to ensure that it operates optimally and provides equal access to project applicants in all countries involved. Against this backdrop, the EU-funded project 'Coordination action for reinforcing the health national contact points network' (HEALTH-NCP-NET) sought to strengthen the NCP network's capabilities.
To achieve its aims, the project conducted specialised training courses, staff exchanges and twinning programmes that involve the NCPs, in addition to organising networking and brokerage events. It particularly worked on integrating and strengthening newly founded NCPs, providing a myriad of tools and information packages to reinforce their operation.
An event entitled 'Cancer and Metabolism 2013' will be held from 24 to 25 June 2013 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.
Over the past few years the field of cancer metabolism has moved into the spotlight of cancer research and into the heart of the bio-industrial world. An increasing number of reports in the field of cancer bioenergetics support the idea that metabolic changes in tumour cells may be critical for tumour progression.
The conference will discuss the link between cell signalling and metabolism, as well as metabolic adaptations of cancer cells to autonomous proliferative demands and environmental stresses.
The 18th International Conference on Calcium Binding Proteins and Calcium Function in Health and Disease will be held from 30 June to 4 July 2013 in Kiruna, Sweden.
Calcium (Ca(2+)) plays fundamental and diversified roles in neuronal plasticity. It has been shown to regulate neuronal gene expression, energy production, membrane excitability, synaptogenesis, synaptic transmission, and other processes underlying learning, memory and cell survival.
The conference will place emphasis on the role of calcium ions and calcium-binding proteins in memory and learning as well as diseases of the brain, although other areas such as heart and cancer will also be covered. It will provide attendees an opportunity to discuss latest development in this research field.
Calls and Tenders
The European Commission has published a call for proposals for 'European Design Innovation Platform', which comes under the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programme (EIP).
The objective of this call for proposals is to accelerate the take-up of design in innovation policies at European, national and regional levels and to promote the increased use of design in European industry as well as in the public sector to promote value creation, competitiveness and efficient use of resource. In particular, emphasis is put on closing the gap between advanced regions and those lagging behind in applying design-driven innovation.
Applicants shall plan and implement a coherent set of actions to boost the adoption of design in innovation policies and to support the creation of capacity and competencies necessary to deliver these policies. This set of actions will be called the European Design Innovation Platform, and fall under the framework of the forthcoming Action Plan for Design-Driven Innovation.
To date biomedical research has been successful in finding the individual genes that are deregulated in cancer, however it has proven challenging to translate this genomics knowledge into effective treatments for patients. The shortfall lies in the fact that cancer cells typically carry many molecular abnormalities and every tumour displays a unique pattern. This divergence makes it difficult for the application of drugs as it often interferes with a patient’s response to the treatment. Thus studying the complex interplay between cancer genes and drugs could lead the way to more effective patient-centred cancer therapy.
The molecular changes in cancer cells can play a role in drug resistance and result in cancer cells becoming uniquely dependant on certain gene products or pathways, consequently it is thought that exploiting these vulnerabilities could offer a great deal of cancer-fighting opportunities such as targeted therapies, especially in treating cancer cells that are dependent on certain pathways or dual cell mutations which result in cell death. Therefore, these concepts have attracted much interest as they can help bridge the gap between cancer genomics and effective treatments.
The project ‘Discovering Gene-Drug Interactions in Breast Cancer with a Systematic and Genetically Tractable Model’ proposes to identify cancer vulnerabilities and drug resistance mechanisms in breast cancer by developing a genetically traceable model system. The system would function as a screening platform with integrated bioinformatics of cell data. As a result the project aims to identify functional interactions between breast cancer genes and drugs in order to improve patient therapy methods and investigate cancer’s potential Achilles heel.
The CORDIS FP7 Find a Project section offers factsheets and contact details for projects funded under the Seventh Framework Programme. You can also browse the FP6 projects section (archived) to see what kinds of research proposals have been chosen for European funding in the past.
Finally and Briefly
Can fitness really prevent cancer?
If we have all, since our early age, have been told that fitness and sports are good for our health, the extent of this positive impact is still not fully understood. This is probably what can be concluded from a new scientific report published by the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), which reveals that not only can fitness protect you from cancer, but it does it for 20 or even more years down the road.
‘Two things you can’t change are your genes and your age,’ Susan Lakoski of the University of Vermont, who led the study said. ‘But you can get more fit.’ Lakoski studied data on more than 17,000 men who attended the Cooper Institute in Dallas, within the framework of a study which was founded by Dr. Kenneth Cooper in 1970. The men all took fitness tests on their first visits to the institute, and the institute later acquired their medical records.