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Cancer research funded by the TV3 Marathon bears fruit

Every year since 2000, the TV3 Marathon Foundation holds an annual symposium to publicize the results and advances in cancer research financed by the funds raised five years earlier. Yesterday in Barcelona’s CosmoCaixa museum, the 11th edition of this symposium took place and the progress of the 31 cancer research projects that received 7.7 million euros of donations from altruistic citizens through the Marathon in 2004 were presented to the public. All participants in the conference agreed on the quality of the 31 research papers in terms of results that have been accruing during that time as well as the consolidation of some lines of research and new doors that have opened thanks to the gesture of those who gave money in 2004.

Octavi Planells, Clara Cardona | 18 may 2010

The fruits of the five years of the 31 cancer research projects were presented in four parallel sessions during the first hours of the XI Symposium of the TV3 Marathon Foundation. Despite dealing with very heterogeneous subjects within each session, the moderators all highlighted the positive results that were presented and the benefit in terms of knowledge and innovation that have been gained. Of course, the directors of all projects showed their gratitude to the citizens who gave money to their cause and to the TV3 Marathon Foundation for its work and support year after year.

Anna Meseguer, a researcher at the Vall d'Hebron University Hospital and moderator of the session that grouped the projects aimed at the etiology of cancer, i.e. at investigating the origin of tumors, noted the progress that had been found in the definition of new genetic markers and new therapeutic targets. This was a common point of the papers presented at the meeting of etiology, despite the cancer under study each project was very diverse, as the researcher said, “leukemia, lymphomas, carcinomas of colon, kidney, bladder ... there has been a representation of different tumor types.” Meseguer also stressed “the important contribution of all these projects to better understanding the basis of tumor formation, its prevalence, how they are distributed in the general population and mechanisms to stop them in time.”

David Gallardo, of the Catalan Cancer Institute, moderated the session on projects related to the prognosis of the disease. The researcher said through the projects a series of markers have been identified that have enabled the determination of the aggressiveness of tumors or even what might be the best way to treat them. These findings pave the way for further research to enhance and improve treatment methods. “Once the targets are detected,” said Garcia, “we must find the tools to directly affect the tumor by means of these targets and to design therapies tailored to each patient, depending on the type of tumor they have.”

To give an idea of the relevance of the research that have gone ahead thanks to the aid of the Marathon, Manuel Palacín of the Biomedical Research Institute and moderator of the session on the physiology of cancer, provided some evidence. Palacín said that until now, the nine projects that he had moderated had produced 58 scientific publications, of which 26 had an impact factor of greater than five, an indicative figure of the rigor and quality of these works. And, according to researcher, there are still more articles to come. “There are between 15 and 20 publications either in preparation or that already have been sent to scientific journals,” he said.

The progress of the project focused on the treatment and benefits in oncology were also applauded by the moderator of the session, Pilar Navarro of the Barcelona’s Municipal Institute of Medical Research. The researcher admitted having been “really surprised at the results that were obtained with the projects.” As presented at the meeting, “in all work there conclusions that can see an advance in the treatment of different types of the tumors analyzed.” Navarro said that most works were based on animal models, although “there was some clinical work which may pose a very aggressive new technique for detecting lung cancer lesions,” she said. “As moderator, I was pleased to see the fruits were so positive.”

The social benefits of cancer research

For Carme Basté, director of the TV3 Marathon Foundation, the symposium is perhaps the foundation’s most important moment, being the day on which the entity is accountable for what has been done with the money after five years of the implementation of the projects. Basté said that “after 18 years, the Marathon is still in good shape.” According to the director, the reasons for this success are that the project is well established in society, that the research community counts on the Marathon when making proposals for new projects and that TV3 and the Corporació Catalana de Mitjans Audiovisuals (ACCMA) continue to give full support for the program to maximize the collection of funds for research.

Oriol de Solà-Morales also said that the symposium was of utmost importance. For the director of the Catalan Agency for the Assessment of Medical Research and Technology (ATTRM), who is responsible for evaluating the projects financed each year by the Marathon, the most important milestone has been achieved is not so much that the program has promoted research but that it has been able also promote “awareness of the need to do research and that money is needed to do so.” He also stressed the importance of research to show that the results are not immediate. The fact that the symposium is held after five years later lets society see that “five years later we are still on the way to producing results,” as pointed out by Solà-Morales. "In fact,” he said, “it is common that these years are the most fruitful, but it is important to convey this idea of patience, that research benefits are not immediate.”

A plenary session with the assistance of several persons served to bring together the main conclusions of the symposium. The first speaker was Manuel Perucho, ICREA professor and director of the Institute of Predictive and Personalized Cancer Medicine, who delivered the conference “Cancer Genetics and Epigenetics: a Retrospective of Cancer Research in Recent Years.” Then, Catalonia’s Councilor for Health, Marina Geli, the president of the TV3 Marathon Foundation and ACCMA, Enric Marin, and director of the New York Academy of Science (NYAS), Ellis Rubinstein, stressed the importance of the Marathon to raise awareness and disseminate scientific research in society.

The celebration of the 11th Symposium of the Marathon represented the opening act of a series of different events that will take place during the Cancer Research and Public Awareness Week, a collaborative effort of Talència, the TV3 Marathon Foundation, Barcelona’s CosmoCaixa musuem and the NYAS. The goal of the week is to bring scientific research to society and, in this particular case, the latest advances in cancer research and personalized medicine.

A GREATER FEELING OF DEBT TO SOCIETYMuch of the research in Spain is financed by public funds derived from taxes of its citizens. Researchers have acknowledged the debt to repay the public investment in the form of scientific and technological knowledge to improve everyone’s quality of life. Some symposium participants feel more indebted to the public on projects funded through the Marathon than projects with state funding. Manuel Palacín said that “in raising funds either through a private foundation or government at the end it is society which dedicates the resources to investigate the issues that seem most relevant.” Although he acknowledged the existence of the feeling of increased indebtedness to private funding held by some researchers.

In both cases, the application procedure and evaluation of projects to choose financing is essentially the same. “But once you have given the project, normally you are more involved with projects funded in this way,” said Anna Meseguer. In general, researchers note that because of the publicity and voluntary participation of so many people, the Marathon creates an emotional component that is missing in government funding and, in turn, there is a greater moral obligation to comply with society. “But in any case, we feel obliged to make the best use of money,” said Pilar Navarro.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of the projects financed by private foundations lies in the bureaucratic issues. “The Marathon is much more flexible when it comes to understanding the problems of researchers,” said Navarro, referring to the fact that this funding does not remain subject to a rigid administrative apparatus. “They trust that researchers know to best use this money, while national or autonomous projects are often more stringent, any change is more complex,” she said. Palacín seconded Navarro’s opinion, saying, “here the money goes to a project and people who carry it out, while state and regional agencies finance institutions. In this case, that's a big advantage.”


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