Selected for funding: Training a new generation of childhood cancer scientists

(Vienna, 24.11.2020) St. Anna Children’s Cancer Research Institute is part of a European Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Innovative Training Network ITN. Being awarded with this grant, Prof. Heinrich Kovar, PhD, is looking forward to train an international PhD student within the VAGABOND program. The successful candidate will investigate druggable molecular pathways in Ewing sarcoma. (The image above shows a Ewing sarcoma cell, painted by the artist Prof. Dr. Ruth Mateus-Berr.)

Prof. Heinrich Kovar, PhD, St. Anna Children’s Cancer Research Institute is part of the European ITN project VAGABOND - Validation of Actionable Genomic ABerrations in a pediatric Oncology Network for Doctorate students. Within this project, an excellent PhD student from abroad will investigate druggable molecular pathways in epithelial–mesenchymal-like transition (EMT) of Ewing Sarcoma, an aggressive bone tumor in adolescents. Together with his research group “Molecular Biology of Solid Tumors” Prof. Kovar has provided essential knowledge for a better understanding of Ewing sarcoma.

Targeting tumor cell plasticity
The translation of basic research discoveries into therapeutic strategies in pediatric cancer remains challenging, given the low incidence rates of the disease and the lack of appropriate in vivo disease models. “Over the last decades, we have learned a lot about heterogeneous genomic and epigenetic perturbations driving various cancer types in children and adolescents”, says Prof. Kovar. Comparably little is known about effectors of cancer cell plasticity, which is responsible for tumor dissemination and metastasis. “If we manage to therapeutically block key pathways of tumor cell plasticity, we may be able to prevent disease progression”, explains Prof. Kovar. “We need to prevent single cells from disseminating out of the primary tumor and forming metastases elsewhere.”
New investigator-initiated, biology-driven approaches are highly needed to validate such novel therapeutic strategies. The overall goal of VAGABOND is therefore to create an efficient approach to validate new target-drug combinations in pediatric cancer. “We intend to find molecular pathways that could serve as therapeutic targets. Within preclinical studies, we further aim to test new or preexisting drugs in order to select the most efficient compounds for subsequent effective clinical studies”, explains Prof. Kovar.

About VAGABOND
The VAGABOND program focuses on eight difficult to treat pediatric cancers. Young scientists are trained to translate basic science findings to therapeutic applications.
The program is funded by the European Commission under the Horizon 2020 program (Marie Sklodowska-Curie Actions Innovative Training Network) and offers 15 fully funded PhD positions. The consortium is coordinated by the renowned Princess Máxima Center for Pediatric Oncology and consists of twelve academic and six non-academic partners from eight European countries. The research projects focus on novel genetic, epigenetic and immunological targets.

Find more information on VAGABOND here: https://vagabondnetwork.com/

The PhD position at the CCRI focusses on druggable pathways in EMT-like transition of Ewing sarcoma. Find out more and apply here: https://www.ccri.at/5803-2/ The application deadline is December, 1st 2020.

About Professor Dr. Heinrich Kovar (PhD)
Prof. Heinrich Kovar, PhD, has been head of the Molecular Biology of Solid Tumors group at St. Anna Children's Cancer Research Institute since 1988 and scientific director of the institute from 2001 to 2017. In his scientific work, the molecular biologist currently focusses on the generation and characterization of Ewing sarcoma models, and on mechanisms of Ewing sarcoma plasticity as the basis for disease susceptibility and progression.
Prof. Kovar has received numerous awards for his research and a number of highly endowed research grants. He is a scientific advisor to renowned international research institutions and programs. In addition, Prof. Kovar is a reviewer for scientific journals such as Nature, Cancer Cell and Cancer Research.