Joining forces to fight cancer

Tumor research groups form national network

EDUARDO CESAR | MARCIO MAGINIAn initiative designed to link the main cancer research groups in Brazil was officially launched in early March. The Brazilian Network for Cancer Research was created to encourage basic and applied studies, such as the mapping of genes connected with tumors and the performance of clinical tests for new treatments. “Besides basic research, supervision, and activities that concern, for instance, tumors’ genome and proteome, the idea of the network is to invest in applied research focused directly on patients”, said Marco Antonio Zago, president of CNPq, the National Council for Scientific and Technological Development. The program’s coordinator is the researcher Anamaria Camargo, from LICR, the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research.

The initiative brings together 19 groups from several institutions, such as the Medical School of the University of São Paulo, the Oswaldo Cruz Fundation, the Butantan Institute, Brazil’s National Cancer Institute, the University of Brasília and the federal universities of Mato Grosso, of Rio de Janeiro and of Uberlândia, besides the company Recepta Biopharma. In late 2008, the network was granted R$5.38 million in connection with a joint public notice released by CNPq and the Ministry of Health, prioritizing three lines of research: studies of molecular changes in breast cancer, preliminary tests of a therapeutic vaccine, and clinical epidemiology studies of breast, stomach and prostate cancers. “New public notices are to be released over the next few years, because the network will be long-lasting”, said Luiz Eugênio de Souza, director of the Science and Technology Department at the Ministry of Health.

In principle, the studies are to focus on Brazil’s most prevalent tumors. “As one can’t start everything at the same time, we decided that the network’s initial object of study should be breast cancer”, explained the network’s coordinator, Anamaria Camargo. It is estimated that the information generated by the researchers will lead to an increase in the range of molecular markers available for this type of tumor, besides identifying new therapeutic targets and diminishing the disease’s mortality and morbidity. To this end, the scientists’ work will be based on the sequencing of the genome of a breast cancer tumoral lineage conducted at LNCC, the National Scientific Computing Laboratory in Rio de Janeiro. The biological material used was provided by LICR – New York. The Butantan Institute, under the umbrella of the new network, is to test a vaccine against ovarian cancer, one of the most aggressive and frequent tumors. The medication, developed in the United States, will be used to avoid the reappearance of the tumor after surgery.

According to Andrew Simpson, scientific director of LICR in New York, an important part of the network’s work concerns advances in diagnostic techniques. “The sequencing technologies have evolved a great deal in the last few years, to the point that, based on the genome of a specific tumor, we can estimate how a patient will respond to a given therapy”, he explained. According to Luiz Eugênio de Souza, the network is expected to integrate researchers working on epidemiological approaches, since the Brazilian population has very specific characteristics as compared to those of other countries. “This will enable us to influence and to formulate and implement new policies for the SUS (the Single System of Healthcare), based on scientific information indicating the predominant characteristics of cancer in Brazil”, he stated.