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16Apr 2018

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ERC Advanced Grant for Rene Bernards to study senescence therapy for cancer

Molecular oncologist Rene Bernards of the Netherlands Cancer Institute has been awarded an ERC Advanced Grant to conduct research into  senescence therapy for cancer as a strategy to overcome drug resistance.

The European Research Council Advanced Grant is allocated annually to established, leading principal investigators who want long-term funding to pursue a ground-breaking, high-risk project. Advanced Grants may be awarded up to € 2.5 million for a period of 5 years.

Drug resistance

Systemic treatment of advanced cancers is hampered by the development of drug resistance. To prevent resistance, Bernards' laboratory has in the past used functional genetic screens to discover several "synthetic lethal" drug combination therapies. This has resulted in 8 clinical trials to date, including one global phase 3 study.

New vulnerability

In this program, he proposes a new approach to the treatment of cancer, which is not based on combinations of drugs, but rather on the sequential treatment with drugs. In a first treatment step, cells will not only be induced to stop dividing, but they will at the same time acquire a major new vulnerability that is subsequently targeted with a second drug that selectively kills cells having the newly acquired vulnerability.

Triggering a senescence response in cancer cells

To accomplish this, the Bernards group will take advantage of recent observations that the cellular senescence response is not only a property of primary cells, but can also be triggered in advanced cancers. Such senescent cells have dramatic changes in gene expression, chromatin structure and metabolism that will hopefully exploited for their selective eradication.



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