Centre for Cancer Biomarkers CCBIO

Continued support from RCN and DIKU for the CCBIO-Harvard INTPART project

CCBIO applied for and recently received continued support from the Research Council of Norway (RCN) and the Norwegian Agency for International Cooperation and Quality Enhancement in Higher Education (DIKU) for phase 2 of the INTPART project: “Bergen-Harvard Cancer Studies phase 2: Continued Partnership for Responsible Education, Research and Innovation Excellence.”

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The INTPART project “Bergen-Harvard Cancer Studies: A Partnership for Excellent Education and Research” was established in 2016 through RCN and DIKU funding. What started as a personal collaboration years ago between Professor Lars A. Akslen and Professor Judah Folkman in Boston has snowballed into collaborative efforts with widespread impact. By collaborations between CCBIO, the Vascular Biology Program (VBP) at Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and Harvard Kennedy School, Program on Science, Technology and Society (STS), successful activities strengthening research education and collaborative activities between partners have taken place. The purpose of phase 1 of the project was to strengthen higher education (at master and PhD level), research education and international research collaboration by partnerships with world-class institutions. This was completed through several successful activities, including a three-week long-course in cancer-related vascular biology, a two-day Scientific Writing Seminar, Special seminars and workshops like "Career Mentoring", "Branding Your Science", "Crafting the Science Pitch" and "Scientific Excellence", given by colleagues from the partner institutions, a Lab visit program where master and PhD students from MED/UiB are given the opportunity of 2-3 months research visits in the partners’ research groups, and a Network Research Meeting, where research and networking among students and researchers were in focus. 

Expanding goals and new activities

In phase 2, CCBIO will expand the goals to strengthen responsible education, cancer research and innovation through long-term international cooperation. The CCBIO (UiB) and VBP (Boston Children’s Hospital and Harvard Medical School) are main partners in phase 2, as the planned aims and activities originate from the collaboration between groups in these institutions. CCBIO Professor Lars A. Akslen is project manager; Professor Marsha Moses, director of VBP, is project partner; Associate Professor Elisabeth Wik (CCBIO) is the main project coordinator. She has contributed to initiation and implementation of activities in phase 1, and her continued contributions as main coordinator are of importance to phase 2. Professor Roger Strand, CCBIO and Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, UiB, takes an important role when leading the work on continued integration of ELSA/RRI in project activities in phase 2. Researcher Anne Bremer, CCBIO and Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities, UiB, contributed strongly to the phase 1 activities and is a key player together with Professor Strand in the ELSA/RRI integrating work in phase 2. Professor Bruce Zetter, Assistant Professors Randolph Watnick, Michael Rogers, Diane Bielenberg, Dr. Roopali Roy, all from VBP, and Dr. Magali Saint-Geniez, Harvard Medical School, are project participants. Dr. Watnick is project coordinator at the US side and Dr. Rogers is activity coordinator. The project participants from the VBP partner contribute to all educational activities and to research collaborations in the project. Additionally, they support the mentoring activities where Harvard faculty interact with the students during courses and seminars.

New course: Innovation in Cancer Research

Adding responsible research innovation as a specific focus during phase 2, CCBIO will be introducing the new course Innovation in Cancer Research. This meets the societal and institutional strategy on strengthening innovation. Here, students and researchers are introduced to basic concepts of innovation and entrepreneurship. CCBIO Researcher Agnete Engelsen will have the academic responsibility for the course. This new course will be integrated in the CCBIO Research School for Cancer Studies, as will all other INTPART activities, and all courses at the CCBIO Research School are approved for both master and PhD studies and open to non-CCBIO researchers and visitors.

RRI as an integral part of research and education

Adding to novelty, the CCBIO effort within Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) and the ethical and societal aspects (ELSA), coordinated by Professor Roger Strand, will now be fully integrated in all phase 2 activities. This follows as a natural consequence of CCBIO’s aim of promoting responsible education, research and innovation, and the gradual transition from RRI being a parallel activity to biomedical activities, to RRI constituting an integral part of both research and education throughout CCBIO, including INTPART.

Mutual benefit

Main project coordinator Elisabeth Wik claims that the phase 2 of the Bergen-Harvard collaboration will facilitate intensive and high-quality exchange of students and faculty between CCBIO and what is arguably the leading and most innovative site in the world for cancer research and innovation.

“We expect our students and researchers to become better qualified, better networked and inspired to improve future cancer medicine and cancer care,” she says. “Phase 2 will contribute to the innovation capacity of Norwegian cancer research,” she continues. “On this point, Norway has a lot to learn from the tight and productive collaborative relationships between academia and medical industry in the Boston area.”

Phase 1 also showed that the CCBIO approach gives added value and novelty to our Harvard collaborators. “Particularly our unique focus on RRI and the ethical and societal aspects of these developments, including the dimension of social justice, has been of interest to our US colleagues,” Dr. Wik explains. “The expertise on ELSA/RRI linked to this INTPART project, and the integration of RRI aspects into all educational and research activities, is to our knowledge a unique offer in Norwegian and international contexts,” she says.

CCBIO Director Lars A. Akslen thinks the collaboration with scientists and teams at the Vascular Biology Program has had a major impact on CCBIO.

"By the renewed support from RCN and DIKU, we will expand our activities and strengthen the implementation of excellent education, research and innovation in a socially responsible way. For myself, to be part of the “Folkman family” has been a fundamental inspiration. What is now happening, is in many ways part of his extended legacy,” he concludes.