Where Ideas Grow

Rui Osório de Castro Prize awarded to i3S research into pediatric brain tumors

Researcher Joana Peixoto, from the Cancer Signaling & Metabolism group, was recently awarded the Rui Osório de Castro/Millennium bcp Prize, worth 15 thousand euros. The scientist’s goal is to find new therapies for pediatric brain tumors. Two honorable mentions were also awarded to i3S researchers: to the team of Carla Oliveira and Alexandre Dias, and to Cláudia Martins.

Called EX-BRAIN_CELLZOOM, Joana Peixoto’s project follows on from a previous work, called EX-BRAIN and also awarded the Rui Osório de Castro Prize, which consisted of the development of ex-vivo organoids, from surgical material of pediatric brain tumors collected at the Centro Hospitalar Universitário de São João.

Based on this model, explains Joana Peixoto, “we will study complex tumors to determine the role of intra-tumoral heterogeneity. Our objective is to identify the different subpopulations that make up these tumors, their intra-tumoral representation and their relevance in the context of sensitivity to targeted therapy drugs”.
With this award, adds the researcher, “we will be able to deepen our knowledge of the biology of pediatric brain tumors, improve therapeutic options for these patients and offer an individualized response for each child, in order to improve their quality of life”.

The two Honorable Mentions were awarded by the jury to the projects “SAPO – Pediatric Sarcomas and Organoids: New diagnostic biomarkers”, led by Carla Oliveira and Alexandre Dias, and “Precision nanomedicine to prevent the access of ‘fuel’ to the tumor: a 2-in-1 solution to treat pediatric medulloblastoma”, coordinated by Cláudia Martins.

Blood biomarkers for early detection of pediatric sarcomas

Hereditary cancer syndrome related to changes in the TP53 gene is the central theme of the project presented by Carla Oliveira, leader of the Expression Regulation in Cancer group, and Alexandre Dias, student of the MCBiology doctoral program and developing his research work at i3S. Children carrying variants in this gene are more likely to develop soft tissue and bone sarcomas and must therefore be actively monitored. The problem, explains Alexandre Dias, “is that current methods have several limitations, namely the high costs of annual full-body MRIs, which are essential from 1 year of age onwards, and the low sensitivity of detection in the early stages of illness”.

This project, says Carla Oliveira, “aims to discover blood biomarkers for the early detection of sarcoma, using brain organoids derived from induced Pluripotent Stem Cells from carriers of TP53 variants with a previous history of pediatric sarcoma”. The identified biomarkers will then be validated in plasma samples from a cohort of pediatric patients carrying pathogenic variants in this gene and sporadic sarcoma patients. The objective, the researchers emphasize, is “to create a sensitive and economically viable panel of biomarkers for the early detection of sarcomas, applicable in the clinical management of carriers of pathogenic variants in the TP53 gene”.

GPS Drugs to Target Medulloblastoma

The project by Cláudia Martins, researcher in the Nanomedicines & Translational Drug Delivery group, focuses on medulloblastoma, the most common brain tumor in pediatric patients, with a lethality rate that can reach 100%. According to the researcher, “medulloblastoma is highly dependent on energy to develop, but drugs that prevent energy access to tumor cells have a poor ability to reach the brain and reach these cells”.

With the aim of overcoming this difficulty, explains Cláudia Martins, “our team intends to develop a more efficient transport of these drugs, developing nano-vehicles equipped with a type of GPS that will guide them directly to the medulloblastoma”. In this way, she guarantees, “we intend to significantly increase the therapeutic response and reduce the high mortality rate associated with this type of tumor”.

The works were evaluated according to criteria such as innovation, relevance and expected impact, by a five person jury: Maria Karla Osório de Castro, President of FROC, Nuno Farinha, President of SHOP (Society of Hematology and Pediatric Oncology) and pediatric oncology doctor at the Centro Hospitalar Universitário de São João, in Porto, Joana Paredes, President of the Portuguese Association for Cancer Research (ASPIC) and leader of the “Cancer Metastasis” Research Group at i3S, Maria de Jesus Moura, Director of the IPOFG Psychology Unit of Lisboa and Margarida Cruz, General Director of Penser.

The award ceremony will take place at the 10th Pediatric Oncology Seminar, organized by the Rui Osório de Castro Foundation, which will take place on February the 24th, at the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation in Lisbon.