Centre for Cancer Biomarkers CCBIO

Support to CCBIO for student participation in research

The Thon Foundation announced Thursday January 12th their allocations of funds for research. This year our faculty got two good reasons to celebrate. Professor Anne Berit Guttormsen at the Department of Clinical Medicine (K1) received an award for excellence in teaching, and CCBIO's Professor Lars A. Akslen and Postdoc Elisabeth Wik received support for the project "Harvard Cancer Research: Partnership for outstanding education and research."

Verdenskart med linje mellom Harvard i USA og Bergen, Norge.
Illustration by Colourbox

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The project of Akslen and Wik is one of two at UiB receiving support in the category "Support for student active research in medicine and/or natural sciences/mathematics in 2017". The project is supported by a total of 1.5 million NOK over three years. In the press release we could read that "This is a very convincing project in which student participation in research is part of a larger collaboration between the Centre for Cancer Biomarkers at UiB and Harvard Medical School."

We had a little chat with Akslen and Wik to learn a little about this exciting project.

What is this collaboration with Harvard about?

"We are in the process of establishing a long-term partnership in which outstanding education will be integrated with excellent research," Akslen explains. "The collaboration will primarily be focused on developing courses at CCBIO's research school to include speakers from Harvard and to develop new courses in collaboration with our partners."

Will this take place here at the University of Bergen?

"The courses will take place both in Norway and in the US," Akslen explains. "Courses will also be launched at the master level to ensure full integration of students, also from the faculty's Medical Student Research Programme. We believe this will result in improved education and development of new forms of expertise in Norwegian academia, for example by including ELSA topics (Ethics, Law, Society) in the curriculum, and integrate this in the education of tomorrow's oncologists and researchers who will contribute in the health priorities debate. We are planning a high degree of mobility, and contacts abroad will improve the opportunities for students and fellows to acquire partners and host institutions abroad."

"We have already received financial support for a similar collaboration in education from the Norwegian Research Council and SIU through the INTPART-program," Akslen adds. "So we have already established a collaboration with Harvard, through our partners Professor Marsha Moses and Dr. Randolph Watnick."

How can the Thon-funding contribute?

"The funding from the Olav Thon Foundation is dedicated to student active research and will provide CCBIO with significantly better opportunities to integrate students in ongoing research with academic publications as a final result. This is a very good and forward-looking strategy to improve recruitment and quality."

Do you have specific plans for student active research?

"Yes, we have plans for two students in our project Biomarkers for Aggressive Breast Cancer," Elisabeth Wik responds. "We are particularly exploring so-called hormone-receptor negative breast cancer. These are tumors that lack receptors for estrogen and progesterone in the tumor cells and thus lack targets for traditional anti-hormone therapy. The challenge is to establish better biomarkers for this patient group and open up to new treatment possibilities. Stud.Med. Amalie Svanøe is working on this project and will benefit from the grant."

What will the task for the students be?

"We will, for example, work with a survey of younger patients and in particular how gene activity differs among the younger and the older, and what differences we find in the activation of various signal circuits linked to hormone receptors," Wik explains. "We will study how formation of blood vessels in tumors is coordinated with the regulation of the immune system, and how this affects the growth and spread of tumors. Preliminary results show that hormone receptor-negative breast cancer has increased formation of blood vessels and shows increased levels of immune proteins, and this is particularly evident in younger patients. In the studies, we will examine tissue from tumors for different proteins, i.e. biomarkers, and for changes in gene activity."

"In addition to do research on this specific project, the Thon grant will also contribute towards the INTPART cooperation, CCBIO's research school and CCBIO's research on biomarkers in cancer," Wik emphasizes. "And so we will be able to offer students everything from very good courses that initially would have been for the PhD level and above, to a real integration in outstanding national and international research groups. As the students will receive clearly defined research projects with separate financing, they will be part of a comprehensive plan with courses and research motivated exchange programs at Harvard Medical School where the students are integrated into our partner's research teams."

What is the next step from here?

Now we will first recruit up to two candidates, with the goal to initiate research and training towards the end of the year," Wik says. "They should then attend courses in Bergen and Boston as the courses are available, and as methodological training is needed in the project progression. They are required to have research stays and attend courses abroad."

This sounds very exciting, and it will obviously be three eventful years for two lucky candidates. We congratulate CCBIO, Lars A. Akslen and Elisabeth Wik, and look forward to follow the project forward!