Tuesday 11 August 2020

Two cutting-edge projects win €1.2m grant from Emanuele Cancer Research Foundation

Two Maltese cutting-edge projects have won a €1.2 million-grant offered by the Emanuele Cancer Research Foundation Malta following a rigorous review process led by an international team of experts.

This grant — the first tranche to be allocated from a total of €2.5 million — will support University of Malta academics with their cancer research and is an unparalleled opportunity to put Malta on the map in the fight against this disease, while attracting collaborators from major laboratories across the globe.

Prof. Emmanuele Emanuele, president of Fondazione Terzo Pilastro-Internazionale and Foundation vice president, said: “I am very happy to announce the start of these important research projects, which are being financed through a massive donation, unmatched in Malta to date.”

The winning teams were announced during a press conference held at the University of Malta today, which was opened by Emanuele Cancer Research Foundation chair Marie-Louise Coleiro Preca, and addressed by Rector Alfred Vella.

Ms Coleiro Preca said: “This is a proud moment for the Foundation to present its cancer research grants to two teams of brilliant scientists working to better understand this disease and ultimately give anyone diagnosed with cancer, and their families, a ray of hope. 

“The Foundation’s raison d’être is to be a catalyst to facilitate cancer research in Malta. It did this by first injecting €2.5 million in state-of-the-art equipment last year, and now by awarding these grants.”

Prof. Vella said the University hoped the research groups succeeded in collaborating together to establish a core group with the necessary critical mass to be able to take part not only in other calls by the Foundation, but also European and International calls.

“It was a great pleasure to see such a considerable number of applications for the Foundation’s first call. We augur these teams will produce excellent scientific results,” he said.

One of the projects, led by Prof. Josanne Vassallo and Dr David Saliba, focuses on mapping the immune landscape to assess immunotherapy strategies to treat pituitary neuroendocrine tumours.

The pituitary is often referred to as the body’s master gland since it releases hormones in the bloodstream that regulate important functions such as metabolism, growth and reproduction. Pituitary tumours are common and can occur in up to 20 per cent of people in Malta, with 18 to 20 patients undergoing complex surgery each year. 

The other project, coordinated by Prof. Godfrey Grech, will utilise innovative methods to classify colorectal cancer patients into groups of clinical relevance and to optimise sensitive and precise tests to predict early metastatic disease.

It is expected to provide a better understanding of the different subtypes of colorectal cancer, explore new insights to explain the mechanisms involved in the progression of the disease, and study the efficacy of specific therapeutics on cellular models that originate from the different types of cancers identified in the study. 

“These two projects, led by teams of experts who excel in this field, represent a significant step for the ECRFM in its goal to defeat this terrible disease. They will benefit not just Malta and the Mediterranean area, but lead to significant strides in the prevention and therapeutic fields all over the world,” Prof. Emanuele said.

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