(Vienna, 01.09.2020) Childhood cancer scientists are creative minds who have one big goal: Saving lives. We asked scientists at St. Anna Children's Cancer Research Institute (CCRI) how this could be achieved even better in the future and about their motivation to study childhood cancer. You can read the answers here and in the detailed portraits that we present each week in the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month in September.
September is International Childhood Cancer Awareness Month. St. Anna Childhood Cancer Research Institute (CCRI) uses this opportunity to draw attention to the special scientific achievements of its scientists. We would like to introduce the people who work here every day to give children with cancer a better chance.
An institute exclusively for unique diseases
Dr. Eleni M. Tomazou, head of the research group Epigenome-based Precision Medicine, is starting the initiative. "Vienna is one of the places in Europe where it was recognized early on that there is a need for a separate institute to investigate childhood cancer," says Tomazou. This could explain why children with cancer in Austria (and Switzerland) have the best chances of survival in Europe. "We have to specifically address the origin, the pathogenesis of cancer in children, if we really want to improve their survival rates," says Tomazou.
After all, cancer develops differently in children than in adults. Congenital immune defects, for example, can make children susceptible to certain types of cancer - a topic that is addressed by the scientific director of CCRI, Assoc. Prof. Dr. Kaan Boztug. He is head of the group Immunodeficiency, Cancer Predisposition & Precision Oncology. "Only the deep molecular understanding of a disease enables personalized therapy and improves the chances of cure," says Boztug.
Still unknown, however, is for example the tissue of origin of the Ewing sarcoma, a particularly aggressive bone tumor, which occurs primarily during puberty. "Most likely there is a connection between tumor development and hormonal development i.e. growth during adolescence," says Prof. Dr. Heinrich Kovar. He is head of the group Molecular Biology of Solid Tumors and in recent years has provided essential components for a better understanding of Ewing sarcoma. "In the metastatic stage, the disease often ends fatally. Therefore, we are working intensively on a therapeutic breakthrough".
Achieving a milestone by joining mosaic tiles
In his research, Kovar is pursuing many approaches to reach the longed-for breakthrough. "Our group provides valuable pieces of the mosaic. But one piece of a mosaic does not heal the patient. Only in the context of putting together all the pieces of the mosaic, which often come from many researchers of different disciplines and nations, real breakthroughs become possible".
Dr. Sabine Taschner-Mandl is as well interested to bring childhood cancer researchers from all over Europe and beyond to one table in order to be able to research these often very rare diseases at all. The head of the Tumor Biology group has found her dream job at CCRI. "Here you work in an environment of people who all share a common goal: to improve the lives of children with cancer.”
By using Liquid Biopsy, Taschner-Mandl develops innovative tumor diagnostics for the clinic. At the same time, she wants to contribute to the development of new therapies. In one of her projects, she is using the CRISPR gene scissors to investigate which gene (sections) make neuroblastoma, the most common solid tumor in children, more or less aggressive in order to derive new approaches for treatment.
Unfold creativity to cure childhood cancer
At the weekends, scientists usually cannot leave their work behind them. Because according to Tomazou and Kovar, their approach is not dissimilar to that of artists. "We always carry the science with us, develop ideas and find out what colleagues are doing," says Tomazou. According to Kovar, a certain amount of freedom in research is also important to develop the necessary creativity and discover new things. Tomazou has found exactly this: "I have a lot of opportunities to set my own goals and work towards them. I am grateful to have been given this opportunity.“
You can already read Eleni Tomazou´s full portrait on our websites, where all further researcher portraits will follow during the Childhood Cancer Awareness Month: