During the Basel Stem Cell Network Annual Meeting 2016, Shany Koren obtained the Bruno Speck Award for her publication: â€œPIK3CA-H1047R induces multipotency and multilineage mammary tumors”. Congratulations !
In 2012, Nicola Aceto, PhD student in the lab, also obtained his award for his paper “Tyrosine phosphatase SHP2 promotes breast cancer progression andmaintains tumor-initiating cells via activation of key transcription factors and a positive feedback signaling loop.”
In January, Marie-May received the Pfizer Research AwardÂ with Kirsten Mertz for their work on CCL2, published in 2014,Â with Laura Bonapace, former post-doc in the lab. More details about this prize below.
Three FMI Postdocs awarded with the Pfizer Research Prize 2016
Three FMI Postdocs, Marie-May Coissieux, Indranil Banerjee and Yasuyuki Miyake, have been awarded the Pfizer Research Prize 2016. Coissieux received the award with Kirsten Mertz (Kantonsspital Baselland) for their Nature paper on how stopping a breast cancer treatment actually aggravates the disease. Banerjee and Miyake described in a publication in Science how the influenca virus exploits a cellular process to crack open the viral capsid. The prize is one of the most prestigious prizes in Switzerland for a research paper.
Preventing therapy risks â€“ Oncology Award
Marie-May Coissieux works as a Postdoctoral fellow in the group of Mohamed Bentires-Alj. In the study, which Coissieux performed together with scientists from the FMI, the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research and the University Hospital Basel, the scientists showed that a promising therapeutic approach for metastatic breast cancer elicits deleterious effects after cessation of the treatment. Stopping CCL2 inhibition paradoxically increases metastasis formation and leads to premature death thus thwarting the initially beneficial effects of the treatment. This has implications for the design of therapies targeting these processes and indicates that therapeutic approaches to inactivate the chemokine CCL2 should be administered with extreme caution.
Â» More information about the Nature publication
Outwitting the influenza virus â€“ Infectiology, Rheumatology and Immunology Award
Indranil Banerjee and Yasuyuki Miyake were part of a research team of scientists from the ETH ZÃ¼rich, the FMI and the Biological Research Center in Szeged (Hungary). They discovered a key aspect of influenza infection: the capsid of the influenza A virus imitates a bundle of protein waste. Individual protein wastes are trafficked to a larger aggregate called an aggresome. A cytoplasmic enzyme called histone deacetylase 6 (HDAC6) and cytoskeletal motor proteins dynein and myosin II are central to aggresome formation and its subsequent disassembly. By containing unanchored ubiquitin chains, the influenza virus loosely mimics protein waste, and takes advantage of aggresome-processing machinery to crack open its capsid and to release its RNA genome for infection. The scientists are now looking for compounds that prevent HDAC6 from binding to free ubiquitin. Such a compound could be the basis for novel influenza therapies.
Pfizer Research Prize
The Pfizer Research Prize is awarded annually by the Pfizer Research Prize Foundation to young scientist who have made outstanding and pioneering contributions in basic and clinical research at Swiss research institutes or hospitals. This year is the 25th anniversary of the award program.
Â» More about the Pfizer Research Prize 2016
InÂ December, Momo received theÂ AACR Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research in San Antonio. This award recognizes investigators below the age of 50 with significant work in their field. We are extremely proud and glad of this prize. Congratulations Momo !!
In recent years, Mohamed Bentires-Alj has made significant contributions to our understanding of the molecular mechanisms controlling normal and neoplastic breast stem cells, metastasis and resistance. He and his group found that mutant PI3K induces multipotency and multi-lineage mammary tumors, and that SHP2 promotes breast cancer progression and maintains tumor-initiating cells. Notably, his research revealed that co-targeting PI3K/mTOR and JAK2 in triple-negative breast cancer models decreases tumor volume, seeding and metastasis, and increases overall survival. He also discovered that cessation of CCL2 inhibition accelerates breast cancer metastasis by promoting angiogenesis. The AACR recognizes these noteworthy achievements but also cites in particular â€œhis relentless efforts in building bridges between basic research and the clinic.â€
The AACR Outstanding Investigator Award for Breast Cancer Research, funded by Susan G. KomenÂ®, recognizes an investigator of no more than 50 years of age whose novel and significant work has had or may have a far reaching impact on the etiology, detection, diagnosis, treatment, or prevention of breast cancer.
The FMI and the Novartis Institutes for BioMedical Research (NIBR) are currently engaged in more than 50 collaborative research projects, with an aim to translate research findings into biomedical applications. Other ongoing joint activities include lecture series and post-doctoral research positions.
Pushing the Boundaries of Biomedical Science
Researchers at both the FMI and NIBR are committed to working together to share their knowledge and push the boundaries of biomedical science. FMI senior staff scientist Mohamed (â€œMomoâ€) Bentires-Alj and NIBR Oncology senior investigator Thomas Radimerski have collaborated on several projects over the years.
â€œIt was through shared curiosity and dialogue that things started taking shape,â€ says Thomas.
In a recent collaboration, they examined how to tackle different aspects of aggressive metastatic breast cancer by combining different drugs. Their goal: To learn how and why cancers become resistant to certain commonly-used drugs that inhibit an important signaling pathway, which is strongly activated in about 70% of breast cancers.
â€œThis was a synergistic collaboration in which the whole was greater than the sum of its parts,â€ says Momo. â€œThomas has a great expertise in drug discovery. And moreover, he has a very good feeling for important questions in cancer biology.â€
Momo and Thomas discovered a drug combination that not only circumvented therapy resistance, but also decreased the spread of cancer to new areas of the body, and improved overall survival in preclinical models. Findings such as these are essential to Novartis because they contribute to our understanding of medications already approved or being tested in clinical trials.
How Collaboration Led to Unexpected Success
When Momo and Thomas initially discussed the science they wanted to explore together, they had no idea what impact the project would eventually have.
â€œI strongly believe that collaboration between academia and industry is critical to advance the science,â€ says Thomas. â€œNo matter how clever you are, you can never have all the good ideas yourself.â€
Both agree they would not have been able to make these scientific discoveries working alone. This collaboration gave them the different but complementary perspectives and expertise necessary to successfully push forward a project of this scale and deliver results.
The Swiss Cancer League has awarded today the Robert Wenner Prize 2014 to MomoÂ Bentires-Alj. The Robert Wenner Prize is one of the most prestigious scientific awards in cancer research in Switzerland. Bentires-Aljâ€™s innovative research into the mechanism controlling the formation and progression of breast cancer was cited by the award jury, as were his relentless efforts to ensure that basic discoveries find application in clinical settings. Similarly exceptional is his dedication to create functional networks within the breast cancer community.
Mohamed (Momo) Bentires-Alj and his research group at the FMI aim at a better understanding of the basic biochemical and cell biological mechanisms of breast cancer initiation and progression. He studies normal and neoplastic breast cell fate, metastases and resistance mechanisms to targeted therapies. Through Bentires-Aljâ€™s work several new therapeutic approaches have been identified, and he helped raise awareness about potential dangers of some treatments. He identified SHP2 as a critical factor in breast cancers with poor prognosis, and has described how this phosphatase maintains tumor initiating cells and thus sustains the growth of the tumor and induces metastasis. In collaboration with scientists from the Novartis Institutes for Biomedical Research (NIBR) the Bentires-Alj group identified resistance mechanisms in metastatic breast cancer and suggested strategies to circumvent these by a combination therapy. Most recently, he showed how cessation of a potential breast cancer treatment (inhibition of CCL2) actually aggravates the disease.
The jury of the Robert Wenner Prize not only noted the outstanding quality of Bentires-Aljâ€™s research, but they were equally impressed by his relentless efforts in building bridges between basic research and the clinic. Bentires-Alj interacts in a strong international network of cancer researchers, and is the founder and president of the European Network for Breast Development and Cancer (ENBDC) that fosters global interactions between labs working in these areas. He is also co-founder of the Basel Breast Consortium (BBC), which is committed to promoting basic, clinical, and translational interdisciplinary research projects locally.
Bentires-Alj studied pharmacy at the University of Liege in Belgium, and subsequently carried out his PhD thesis at the University of Liege, a thesis honored with two awards. He subsequently joined the laboratory of Prof. Benjamin Neel at Harvard Medical School, Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, to investigate the role of phosphatases in cancer. He joined the FMI in late 2006 as a Junior group leader. His scientific career has been distinguished with numerous research awards, among them the Dora-Seif-Prize for Cancer Research (2012), the Susan G. Komen for the Cure EACR award (2014), the Proffered Paper award, EACR23 and the Novartis Select Award. In 2009, Bentires-Alj also secured a highly competitive European Research Council (ERC) grant.
The Robert Wenner Prize was created in 1973 by the Basler gynecologist Robert Wenner to honor outstanding young scientists in cancer research. It is one of the most highly regarded prizes in cancer research and is awarded annually by the Swiss Cancer League. The award is endowed with 100â€™000 CHF: 80â€™000 for a research project and 20â€™000 for the awardeeâ€™s free disposal.
Two FMI group leaders honored by scientific community
Rainer Friedrich, neurobiologist and senior group leader at the Friedrich Miescher Institute for Biomedical Research, has been honored by the Jean-Marie Delwart Foundation in Belgium for his high-impact work in the field of higher olfactory signal processing. The prize amounts to USD 10â€™000 and is awarded every other year.
Rainer Friedrich is an expert in the neuronal circuitry that mediates zebrafish olfaction. He uses the zebrafish system as a model to study the function and development of neuronal circuits under intact and pathophysiological conditions. In his laboratory he tracks neuronal activity in vivo by electrophysiological recordings, voltage-sensitive dye imaging, and 2-photon calcium imaging of activity patterns across thousands of individual neurons. Experimental results are integrated into models in order to extract principal computational properties and constraints on neuronal circuits. His recent work on the topology and dynamics of odor-evoked activity patterns at different stages of sensory processing provide insights into computations performed by the olfactory bulb.
In the summer, Mohamed Bentires-Alj was awarded the Dora-Seif-Prize from the University Hospital Basel for his outstanding research on metastatic breast cancer. Bentires-Alj focuses his research in three areas: cell fate in the normal and neoplastic breast, metastasis, and resistance to targeted therapy. His recent findings bridge signaling to epigenetics and provide interesting insights into the roles of the phosphatase SHP2 in breast tumor initiating cells, the so-called TICs.
The Dora-Seif-Prize has been installed by the Basel physician Dora Seif, who died of cancer. The prize is awarded every other year and comprises the temporary ownership of the golden Dora-Seif-Ring.