Two prizes for cancer research
For his research on cancer metastases, EPFL scientist Albert Santamaria Martínez has won one of the Pfizer prizes, awards given to young scientists for discoveries in medicine. Tatiana Petrova, a professor at the University of Lausanne and CHUV who is affiliated with the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research, has also been awarded one of these prizes.
Tumor cells can spread throughout the body very quickly after the onset of cancer. But only a small number of them manage to create metastases in distant organs. Debiopharm Chair holder Albert Santamaria Martinez, whose research focuses on signal transduction in oncogenesis, has studied these renegade cells in detail. For his novel research on these cells and their role in the development of metastases, he has won one of the prestigious Pfizer Prizes which are awarded every year to young scientists who have made a significant discovery in medicine.
Metastases cannot develop without the involvement of cancer stem cells. These induce fibroblasts, the cells of normal connective tissue, to express certain matrix-building components. Martinez was able to isolate a protein produced uniquely in the tumor environment that strengthens the growth signals being sent to cancer stem cells. Thus he has shown that a secondary tumor can only appear in the presence of specific interactions between cancer stem cells, fibroblasts and matrix components.
This discovery opens up possibilities for developing new therapies to fight cancer. It might be possible to block the process of metastasis by inhibiting fibroblasts from producing these matrix components.
A dysfunctional lymphatic system
Affiliated with CHUV, the University of Lausanne and the Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC) which is part of EPFL, Tatiana Petrova has also been awarded a Pfizer Prize for the discoveries she and colleague Amèlie Sabine have made about the formation and functioning of lymphatic valves.
Her work has led to a better understanding of certain mechanisms active in the formation of lymphedemas, the chronic accumulation of lymph in patients who have had lymph nodes removed as part of cancer treatment.
Her study revealed that mechanical forces associated with the circulation of lymph are necessary for the formation and operation of lymphatic valves. Two critical transcription factors involved in this process were identified, permitting a better understanding of how endothelial cells react to mechanical forces generated in the vessels.