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European Thyroid Association recognizes i3S project

A Portuguese team made up of i3S researchers was awarded by the European Thyroid Association with a Project Research Grant in the basic research category worth 20 thousand euros. The project focuses on the study of a protein called telomerase, on its influence on the severity of thyroid cancer and on resistance to existing therapies and how this protein can help to find new treatments.

Marcelo Correia and Catarina Tavares, who are part of the project, explain that the research group in which they work (Cancer Signalling & Metabolism) “has already identified the presence of mutations in the telomerase gene in several human tumors. We also found that these changes are associated with greater aggressiveness of the tumors, worse prognosis and resistance to therapy”. In addition it is known that telomerase reactivation occurs in almost 90% of cancers and that it promotes the immortalization of tumor cells.

According to Catarina Tavares, principal investigator of the study, “preliminary data from our group points to the importance of telomerase in thyroid cancer through functions so far less studied, namely through mitochondria. It is known that in response to oxidative stress the telomerase protein migrates to this cellular organelle and is capable of preventing death and increasing the resistance of cancer cells to therapy”. In thyroid cancer, continues Marcelo Correia, “treatments with radioactive iodine lead to an increase in oxidative stress and so we thought that telomerase may be involved in resistance to this treatment”.

The team also intends to “clarify whether the location of telomerase in the mitochondria interferes with the response to radioactive iodine therapy used against thyroid cancer. This will allow the identification of new targets and therapeutic strategies”, adds Marcelo Correia. Paula Soares, coordinator of the group, says that this award has a lot of significance as it is awarded by an association that is the European reference in thyroid studies and is acknowledgment of the group’s work.