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ERC Starting Grant awarded to Anna Obenauf

05 Sep 2017

Over the next five years, Anna Obenauf’s research on cancer metastasis and therapy resistance will be supported with 1.5 million Euro through a Starting Grant of the European Research Council (ERC). This is the 16th of the prestigious ERC research grants that is awarded to an IMP scientist since 2007.

In her ERC-funded research project “CombaTCancer”, Anna Obenauf and her team will investigate how tumors resist current cancer therapies. The focus of this project is on the evolution of the cancer cells during the treatment and the tumor microenvironment, which has a strong impact on cancer progression and therapy responses. Ultimately, her goal is to identify more powerful treatment combinations, that result in durable responses of cancer patients.

The treatment of metastatic cancer has undergone a paradigm shift in the last couple of years. For several cancers targeted therapies, which specifically inhibit the molecular drivers of the cancer cells, have replaced unspecific chemotherapies. These new generations of targeted therapies can achieve rapid responses in a large number of patients and tumor control for several months, however, durable treatment responses are rare, due to the emergence of drug-resistant cancer cells. Tumor heterogeneity and plasticity result in manifold resistance mechanisms and targeting drug-resistant clones is among the biggest challenges in treating cancer.

To better understand the emergence of therapy-resistant clones and how to tackle them, Anna Obenauf and her lab will investigate the poorly understood events during targeted therapy-induced tumor regression. “We are really excited about a novel method we are developing, which will allow us to get unprecedented insights into the evolution of cancer cells during therapy” says Anna Obenauf.

In addition to this cancer-cell centric approach, her lab will focus on factors in the tumor microenvironment that influence the activity of immune cells. “Our goal is to harness the power of the immune system to eradicate therapy-resistant cancer cells. Immunotherapies have already shown remarkable responses in a subset of cancer patients, but cancer cells have found strategies to evade the immune system. We have set-up model systems and collaborations with clinicians that allow us to dissect this fascinating aspect of cancer biology”. Together, these experiments have the potential to provide answers to long-standing questions in cancer biology and uncover vulnerabilities that could be targeted with the right drug combinations.

About the ERC funding scheme

The European Research Council (ERC) grant scheme was established in 2007. “Starting Grants” award up to 1.5 million Euro for a period of 5 years to talented early-career scientists who have demonstrated a potential to develop into leaders in their fields of research. Due to the rigorous evaluation underlying this award, the ERC grants can serve as indicators of academic excellence. Anna Obenauf’s Starting Grant is the 16th ERC grant given to an IMP scientist. Of the currently 16 IMP faculty members, 11 are “ERC grantees”.

About Anna Obenauf

Anna Obenauf joined the IMP as a group leader in January 2016. Her lab studies the molecular mechanisms of metastasis and drug resistance. Prior to starting her own lab, Anna Obenauf was a postdoctoral researcher at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York for five years. She did her PhD at the Medical University of Graz.

Learn more about the research of Anna Obenauf’s lab here.