SWISS BRIDGE Award to support lung cancer research
Cancer is predicted to affect one in three people in their lifetime. While treatment options are growing, widespread tumour resistance to treatment begs for more research into fundamental mechanisms and rational combination therapies. The prestigious SWISS BRIDGE Award will now support Anna Obenauf’s research into resistance mechanisms in lung cancer.
Every sixth death in the world is due to cancer, making it a leading cause of death – second only to cardiovascular diseases. Extensive efforts over the past century have focused on finding effective cancer treatments. Some of this research aims to target genetic mutations that drive the growth of tumours.
In lung cancer, mutations in a gene called KRAS are found in about 20 to 25 percent of cases. Recent research advances into KRAS mutations have led to the approval of two drugs that inhibit the mutations’ effects. However, as for many types of cancer therapies, tumours can develop resistance to these drugs and put the survival of patients in jeopardy.
IMP senior group leader Anna Obenauf is about to launch the COMBAT-PERSISTERS project, which is dedicated to studying ‘persister’ cells – lung cancer cells that survive therapy and develop resistance. In this project, Obenauf and scientists in her lab aim to understand how resistance arises using CaTCH, a tool developed in her lab that traces millions of cells as they undergo evolutionary selection, with the ability to retrospectively isolate and functionally analyse their precursors. With in vitro and animal models, the researchers will investigate the cells’ survival mechanisms and their interaction with the immune system, explore potential immunotherapy markers, and investigate resistance mechanisms. They also plan to collaborate with medical doctors, and to use patient samples to confirm their experimental findings. Eventually, they hope to identify potential drug targets to prevent tumour resistance and eliminate persister cells.
Every year, the SWISS BRIDGE Foundation presents innovative cancer research projects with the SWISS BRIDGE Award. This accolade supports promising research endeavours worldwide with 250,000 Swiss francs. This year, Anna Obenauf is one of two award laureates.
“Understanding resistance mechanisms is one of the biggest challenges in cancer research today, and I feel grateful that our vision is recognised by SWISS BRIDGE,” says Obenauf. “Laura Sanchez Burgos, a postdoc in my lab, and Sofia Moysiadou, a master’s student, have been instrumental in designing and planning this project. The award honours their work and preliminary data.”