Where Ideas grow

LPCC distinguishes young i3S researchers

i3S won 5 of the 14 scientific research grants in oncology awarded this year by the Portuguese League Against Cancer Northen region (Liga Portuguesa Contra o Cancro - Núcleo Regional do Norte - LPCC-NRN). Of the projects funded, three target colorectal cancer, one of the most frequent cancers and the second most deadly in the world, another on breast cancer and another on the plasticity of cancer cells. This funding will allow researchers to develop their work for a period of one year.

The project by researcher Ana Baião, from the Nanomedicines & Translational Drug Delivery group, proposes the development of nanoparticles loaded with a chemotherapeutic agent specifically aimed at colorectal cancer cells and combining this chemotherapy with immunotherapy. “This type of treatment aims to enhance the immune response when administered intravenously and thus improve the effectiveness of colorectal cancer treatment”, explains the researcher.

Also in the area of colorectal cancer, Catarina Azevedo, from the group Immunology, Cancer Glycomedicine, intends to discover more effective immunotherapies since a large part of patients with this type of cancer do not respond or develop resistance to therapy. The main objective of the work, underlines Catarina Azevedo, “is to explore the impact of T cell metabolism on cancer progression, to understand whether the modulation of specific T cell metabolic pathways is a unique opportunity to manipulate T cell function and activity and find new immunotherapeutic approaches”.

Researcher Inês Sousa Conde’s project, of the Epithelial Interactions in Cancer group, focuses on metastatic breast cancer, specifically in the identification of biomarkers associated with the stemness of tumor cells. “Our goal is to define a signature of specific tumor staminality associated with different metastatic sites, using a cell model of metastatic breast cancer, composed of a parental line and its variants for bone, brain and lung”, emphasizes the researcher. Once this specific signature has been established for the different metastatic sites, “it will be possible to better understand the molecular mechanisms that underlie the formation of metastases in breast cancer, identifying biomarkers of tumor staminality that can be translated to the clinic as prognostic factors or targets therapeutic”.

Following previous work carried out in the Cell Division & Genomic Stability group, which identified that adult stem cells from the intestine of Drosophila melanogaster (fruit fly) with chromosomal changes (aneuploidy) are able to survive, multiply, enhance the development of tumors and until invading other organs, João Barbosa now intends to understand how these cells, in response to aneuploidy, acquire this ability to migrate to neighboring tissues.

“The work plan for my project includes not only the characterization of cell morphology, adhesion and polarity, but also the discovery of mechanisms of cell migration of stem cells during this process”, adds João Barbosa. “We hope that our results can generate knowledge of fundamental biology in a crucial process in the progression of this disease, which is the phenomenon of metastasis, potentially serving as inspiration to design new therapies that prevent or reduce the chances of tumor cells migrating from their origin”, he concludes.

Researcher Sara Canato (from the Cytoskeletal Regulation & Cancer group) intends to use surgical resections of cancer patients (from a collaboration with the Department of Pathology, Hospital de São João) to evaluate the impact of the stiffness of the extracellular matrix of cancer cells on the progression of cancer. With this objective and based on previous work developed by the group, the researcher’s project focuses on the study of the epithelial to mesenchymal transition process, which is believed to be essential for the spread of cancer cells. Thus, Sara Canato intends to find new strategies for cancer patients, namely the development of new therapeutic interventions capable of remodeling the stiffness of the extracellular matrix.