European Week Against Cancer

From May 25th to 31st, we acknowledge the European Week Against Cancer (EWAC). In Poland, malignant cancer ranks as the second leading cause of death after cardiovascular diseases. Therefore, it’s crucial to maintain a healthy lifestyle to minimize the risk of developing cancer. During the European Week Against Cancer, various activities are carried out to raise public awareness about prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of cancer. It’s also incredibly important to highlight the role of scientific research, including genetic and preclinical studies.

At the Institute of Bioorganic Chemistry PAS, research on cancer has been conducted for many years, deepening our understanding of the mechanisms of carcinogenesis and ultimately paving the way for the development of new treatment methods.

At the Department of Medical Biology, headed by Prof. Mirosława Naskręt-Barciszewska, research is conducted in the area of the molecular basis of cancerous diseases. The aim of these studies is to develop new methods of early diagnosis, as well as to search for unique small-molecule chemical compounds and to evaluate available therapeutics as potential drugs to combat brain tumors, particularly glioblastoma multiforme. For the early identification of glioblastoma, epigenetic changes in DNA, involving the assessment of the intensity of global DNA demethylation in human peripheral blood as a result of induced oxidative stress, are utilized. Among the tested potential anti-glioma therapeutics are natural products and nucleic acid derivatives.

At the Department of Molecular Neurooncology, under the direction of Katarzyna Rolle, PhD., DSc., Assoc. Prof., research is being conducted to identify molecules involved in the development and progression of glioblastoma multiforme, which may lead to the identification of new therapeutic targets. Work is also underway to develop and routinely utilize a new glioblastoma research model, which may be used in the future both to identify molecules crucial for tumor progression processes and to test new drugs.

Prof. Anna Pasternak, who heads the Department of Nucleic Acid Bioengineering, has research interests that include the physicochemical characterization of molecular tools based on nucleic acids and their analogues. As part of the activities of this department, scientists develop, among other things, oligonucleotides designed for sequentially selective interactions with G-quadruplexes at regulatory sites of oncogenes. They also investigate chemically modified G-quadruplexes with potential applications in anti-cancer therapy. Additionally, they are involved in research on the regulation of alternative splicing in cancer cell lines and the development of aptamers with enhanced anticoagulant properties.

At the Department of Molecular Genetics, under the direction of Prof. Piotr Kozłowski, diverse research in the field of cancer genetics is being conducted. This includes studies on the identification of new genetic and epigenetic variants and risk genes playing a role in heritable genetic predispositions to cancer, especially breast and ovarian cancers, as well as rare heritable cancer syndromes. Additionally, somatic mutations potentially driving cancer in non-coding genetic elements, especially in miRNA genes and non-coding parts of protein-coding genes, are identified and characterized.

Since January 2024, the IBCH PAS has had a Department of Cancer Genetics, led by Dr. Katarzyna Klonowska. The aim of the projects conducted in this department is to investigate new aspects of the genetic basis of tumors associated with hereditary cancer syndromes. The research interests of the department also include the development of new strategies for ultra-sensitive profiling of mutations, including mosaic mutations. The research conducted at the Department of Cancer Genetics bridges the gap between genetics and medicine, thus leading to scientific discoveries with practical applications in diagnostics and potential significance for patients.

As part of the recently concluded ECBIG-MOSAIC project, an advanced research platform has been created, enabling the acquisition of multidimensional biomedical and clinical data, their standardization, integration, and analysis using artificial intelligence algorithms to generate new knowledge and tools for widely accessible, personalized medicine. The English name of the platform, MultiOmicS and Artificial Intelligence for Clinical practice, abbreviated as MOSAIC, reflects the ultimate outcome of its operation – the comprehensive image of the functioning of the biological system (cells, tissues, organs, or the entire organism) composed of many seemingly unrelated data points. The project was carried out in cooperation with, among others, the National Institute of Oncology Maria Skłodowska-Curie – National Research Institute, Branch in Gliwice. The project was led by Prof. Marek Figlerowicz from the Department of Molecular and Systems Biology.

The latest success of the IBCH PAS is obtaining funding in the amount of 40.2 million PLN for the project “Targeted single-cell technology for cancer diagnostics – towards cell-oriented interceptive medicine” (acronym: INTERCEPT), that will be led by Prof. Marek Figlerowicz. The main goal of the INTERCEPT project is to revolutionize cancer diagnostics by developing independent microfluidic systems and nucleic acid-based technology enabling the analysis of single cells, which will subsequently be used to create targeted diagnostic tests. These envisioned tests will be applied in diagnosing acute myeloid leukemia (AML) and chronic lymphocytic leukemia (CLL). The project’s core idea is to introduce highly advanced single-cell analysis technologies into clinical practice by reducing technical complexity and costs and improving overall clinical utility.

Among the many publications on cancer that are produced annually at IBCH PAS, we would like to draw attention to a research paper published this year in the prestigious journal Nucleic Acids Research. The publication [Suszynska M, et al., Nucleic Acids Res. 2024 Feb 28;52(4):1628-1644], authored by scientists from the Department of Molecular Genetics and the Bioinformatics Laboratory, presents the first comprehensive list and score of cancer-related miRNA genes (Cancer miRNA Census, CMC). The list was constructed based on several independent criteria and validated by comparison with numerous cancer-related datasets. The CMC may be used as a reference for the validation of results of miRNA analyses in cancer, the prioritization of miRNAs in different cancer analyses, and the optimization of methods for identifying further cancer-related miRNAs or cancer-driver miRNA genes.

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