Young oncologists bridging the gap between translational and clinical cancer research

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Published: 29 Sep 2014
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Prof Joan Seoane - Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology, Barcelona, Spain

Prof Joan Seoane speaks to ecancertv at ESMO 2014 about his own work on the molecular mechanisms behind brain tumours, touching on "the most exciting biomarkers" in this rapidly evolving field. 

He also touches on the highlights of other similar works presented at this ESMO.

In addition, Prof Seoane is involved in the Young Oncologists Meeting, a joint initiative between EACR and ESMO to bridge the gap of translational and clinical cancer research.


You are very much interested in the science of what’s going on here. I want to ask you about what you’re doing with the EACR ESMO initiative, but first a little bit about your own work because you’re a brain cancer specialist, molecular mechanisms are your bag, what to you is the most exciting thing that you’re working on at the moment?

We are making a lot of effort or investing a lot of effort to try to understand the molecular mechanisms behind brain tumours. What we want to find is new therapeutic targets but also we want to find biomarkers to help us predict responses to particular treatments. To do so what we do is we try to analyse and study both the samples from the patients undergoing surgery but also we generate models to reproduce those tumours.

What do you think are the most exciting biomarkers?

Right now we are thinking that maybe circulating biomarkers could be a way to address the intra-tumoural heterogeneity that all tumours have but particularly in brain tumours and glioblastoma it’s very, very high. So we think that by looking at maybe ctDNA or even CTCs we could see what are the characteristics of the tumour that the patient has and how to treat that patient optimally.

Now we have a huge cancer meeting here at ESMO in Madrid, what for you are some of the highlights coming out of that area, circulating biomarkers?

Yes, well I think here there are a lot of excellent talks on circulating biomarkers, both on ctDNA, circulating tumour DNA, free DNA in the blood, in the plasma, but also CTCs, circulating tumour cells. Both ways might be a way to really better diagnose patients and better find the right treatment.

How much progress has been made, I’m thinking of clinicians wanting to use these techniques, how much progress has been made so far?

The progress is tremendous although we are still far away from a really well defined methodology to do these types of things. But we know that there is ctDNA, circulating tumour DNA; we know that that DNA is recapitulating the intra-tumoural heterogeneity, all the alterations that that tumour has, and we know that this can be monitored in time in response to treatment. So we have to work much more on that but we have the first indications that this could be a really nice way of monitoring tumours.

Is there any indication yet that you could predict metastasis early and therefore do something about it?

It’s still early days in this sense but we have indications that you can predict prognosis based on these circulating. So little by little we will get there.

Another very vital area here at the moment is immunotherapy. What kind of promising things do you see coming up at this conference in that?

Here in this conference what is very relevant is to try to think about combination. Combination of different immunomodulators or even immunomodulators with other targeted therapies. This is a way that people are thinking that could be very interesting in this sense.

I must ask you about something that you’re heavily involved with here and that’s the young oncologists meeting that’s just happened and that’s between EACR and ESMO, this initiative. What’s been happening?

I am a member of the Executive Committee of the EACR, of the European Association for Cancer Research, and through the contact with ESMO and the young oncologists what we want to do is a kind of integration of the young scientists and the young clinicians doing something together, to learn from each other and trying to integrate and do synergisms to the translational research together. So what we did yesterday was to generate a workshop showing how clinicians and basic scientists can be together learning from each other.

So what progress do you think has been made in that direction?

Here the progress is a question of contacting, learning. It’s important that the basic scientists understand clinical science and clinical scientists understand basic science. It’s a question of explaining what each other does and working together.

Now, bridging that gap between the bench scientist and the clinician is a difficult one, there’s a lot of talk about bench to bedside, what’s your clue to the secret of success?

The clue is getting together and talking, trying to learn each other’s languages so they can emerge and work together in comprehensive cancer centres where bench and bed are all integrated. Projects should be together, this is the way to go. So young oncologists and young scientists, which are young, they can get together and begin to learn how to generate these bridges.

So what message would you like to leave cancer doctors and cancer scientists with from this recent experience you’ve had?

I think for a cancer doctor it’s very relevant to understand the molecular mechanisms of tumours, while basic scientists doing bio-medicine or translational research have to understand the way to deal with patients. So my message is get together, talk, collaborate and do synergisms in this sense.

Thank you very much.

Thank you.