Two researchers from Barcelona will share this year's Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Award. Eduard Batlle, ICREA Professor, Oncology Programme Coordinator and Director of the Colorectal Cancer Laboratory at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona) and fellow ICREA Professor Joan Seoane, Director of Translational Research at the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO) and Principal Investigator of the Gene Expression and Cancer Group, have won the Dr. Josef Steiner Cancer Research Award 2013 for their dedicated work in oncology.
Consisting of a €400,000 grant each to fuel a research project over a four-year period, as well as a personal prize for each researcher in recognition of their outstanding professional development to-date, both researchers will receive the shared award at a special ceremony taking place today at the University of Bern (Switzerland).
The Dr. Josef Steiner Foundation supports research into the mechanisms that trigger cancer and the development of more effective diagnostic tools and treatments to fight this disease. The aims of the Foundation include honouring studies and researchers that develop new concepts and diagnostic or therapeutic approaches, and raise public awareness on and around the importance of preclinical research as the first essential element upon which to build translational studies.
“It is a true honour for us both to receive this award, especially given the exceptional and incomparable standing of previous awardees including the internationally acclaimed David Lane, Arnold Levine, Judah Folkman, and the Nobel Prize Paul Nurse, to name but a few”, explain Dr. Seoane and Dr. Batlle.
"This recognition is very positive for cancer research and recognises Barcelona as an epicentre for cancer research of excellence with many internationally renowned groups and institutes”, they affirm.
Joan Seoane: Studying stem cells to target the trigger, recurrence and mechanisms of resistance of brain cancer
Dr. Seoane's group at VHIO investigates one of the main problems associated with cancer: tumour heterogeneity. Not all tumour cells are the same, not all have the same role, and not all are equally sensitive to treatment. His Gene Expression and Cancer Group focuses on the study of glioma, the most common and aggressive of all brain tumours, and strives to accelerate the translation of scientific discovery into clinical benefit for patients. As Dr. Seoane explains, "Our aim is to identify the cells that trigger the early stages of glioma, cells responsible for tumour initiation, recurrence and resistance to conventional therapies, known as tumour stem cells. We recently managed to identify tumour stem cells of brain tumours and developed treatments to eliminate tumour stem cells, thereby preventing recurrence of the tumour and resistance to radiotherapy and chemotherapy".
This research has had a major impact and has led to the swift clinical development of compound inhibitors (such as the TGF-beta pathway inhibitor) that act as anti-tumour agents in brain cancer, and are currently being used as an experimental treatment under clinical development at the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital. Dr. Seoane's group continues to develop tumour-specific and cell-specific drugs in order to identify biomarkers of response that will enable researchers to match each tumour or cell type with its ideal treatment, thereby delivering on the promise of precision oncology.
Eduard Batlle: Deciphering the mechanisms responsible for metastasis of colorectal tumours
Colorectal cancer is one of the main causes of cancer-related deaths worldwide. The majority of patients succumb to the disease due to its spreading to other organs. Currently it is not possible to identify patients at risk for developing metastasis and today´s therapies are ineffective in blocking metastatic spread. Dr. Batlle´s laboratory pioneered the identification of a population of malignant cells capable of spreading the cancer to the liver and lungs, the organs in which metastasis most frequently occurs in patients with colon cancer.
“These tumour cells have copied and subverted mechanisms used by normal tissue stem cells and can self-renew uncontrollably. They are cancer stem cells. In addition, these cells are resistant to current drugs and hence are responsible for recurrence of the disease post-treatment”, comments Batlle. “We have recently discovered that a key feature of this cell type is its ability to communicate and transform the environment to provide them with growth and survival factors during colonization of the liver and the lungs.”
This research opens avenues for the development of new therapeutic strategies to block metastasis. In addition, Batlle, in collaboration with the Botín Foundation, is currently translating his research findings to the clinic through a project called Colostage, a test that will identify colon cancer patients that are at high risk of developing metastasis further to treatment.
Eduard Batlle (Barcelona, 1970), received a doctorate in biology from the University of Barcelona. His first postdoctoral position was at the Institut für Molekularbiologie und Tumorforschung, in Marburg, Germany, and then he spent four years at the Netherlands Institute for Developmental Biology, in Utrecht, The Netherlands, under the mentorship of the renowned scientist Hans Clevers. His work has been published in the best biomedical journals including several articles in Nature journals and deserving two covers in Cell and Cancer Cell. Some of the discoveries made by Eduard Batlle have founded new fields of research and his publications have a high impact in the scientific community reflected by the citations and comments they have received in leading scientific journals. In 2006, Dr Batlle received the Debiopharm Life Sciences Award for Outstanding Research in Oncology from the École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) in Switzerland and the Banco Sabadell Biomedical Research Award (2010).
Since 2005, Eduard Batlle coordinates the Oncology Programme and directs the Colorectal Cancer Laboratory Group at IRB Barcelona. Batlle received the prestigious European Research Council (ERC) Starting Grant and more recently an ERC Advanced Grant to pursue his research into intestinal stem cells and colon cancer.
Joan Seoane (Barcelona, 1970), received a doctorate in biochemistry from the University of Barcelona (1998). He completed his postdoctoral training at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, New York, USA, where he was later appointed as Research Associate in 2001. Since 2004, he has been an ICREA Professor at the Vall d'Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), located in the heart of the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital, and in 2008 joined the European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO) as Young Investigator.
He has published studies in the most prestigious journals, including Cell, Cancer Cell and Nature, and his articles have been widely cited. He has received funding from several sources, including a grant from the European Research Council (ERC). Dr. Seoane has received numerous awards including the Research Fellow Award from the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, the Beckman-Coulter Award from the Spanish Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (SEBBM), and the Banco Sabadell Biomedical Research Award.
He is a member of the Executive Committee of the European Association for Cancer Research (EACR), Associate Professor at the Universidad Autónoma de Barcelona (UAB), and, since 2011, assumes the position of Director of Translational Research at VHIO, leading efforts to advance cancer treatment and catalyze the transfer of new insight generated by research into the true benefit for cancer patients.