Ca' Foscari with AIRC for two cancer research projects


Experimenting a targeted therapy innovative for ovarian cancer and developing a new drug for leiomyosarcoma are the ambitious objectives of two projects at the Ca' Foscari University of Venice, which will be supported by the AIRC Foundation.

The support will take the form of a 5-year Investigator Grant and a 3-year research grant awarded as part of the iCare-2 call, co-financed by the European Union.

Testing new drugs using organoids

The high-grade serous carcinoma is the malignant ovarian tumour that is most widespread and difficult to treat because it is almost always diagnosed in advanced stages. Thanks to a previous project supported by AIRC, Flavio Rizzolio and his group at the Aviano CRO (Oncology Referral Centre) demonstrated that the protein PIN1 has an important role in the origin and progression of this carcinoma.

With the Investigator Grant obtained as professor at Ca' Foscari, Rizzolio will seek to understand how the inhibition of that protein can improve the effectiveness of therapy. He will do this by experimenting innovative drugs on organoids, i.e. miniaturized and simplified versions of organs, recreated in vitro in three dimensions in such a way as to display micro-anatomy and functions similar to the real organs.

“Tumours need the protein PIN1,” explains Flavio Rizzolio, “because it both activates genes necessary for its development and blocks other genes that counteract growth. The objective of the project is to improve the drugs that inhibit PIN-1, through experimentation on organoids. We expect that these tests will also tell us a lot about the potential of the organoids themselves, obtained from patient cells, predicting the effectiveness of current and future treatments in inhibiting tumour growth. It is very promising frontier research.”

The AIRC Investigator Grants are guided by experienced researchers and are selected through the international peer review method for their relevance and impact on cancer, innovativeness, feasibility, the experience of the applicant and the adequacy of the host institution. The Ca’ Foscari project, which began in January 2020, obtained funding of €114,000 for the first year and will employ two new researchers in the Department of Molecular Sciences and Nanosystems.

From Malaysia to fight a rare tumour

The iCare-2 programme, cofinanced by AIRC and by the Marie Sklodowska-Curie action of the European Commission provides three years of support for international researchers who intend to work on a research project in Italy.

Ca' Foscari was awarded a grant of over €54,000 for the first year, thanks to a project by the biotecnologist Alessandro Angelini, who will welcome to his laboratory in Venice, from March 2020, the young Malaysian researcher Ee Lin Wong, following previous training and research at the Freie Universität in Berlin.

The research aims to develop a drug capable of breaking the interaction among proteins responsible for the leiomyosarcoma, a rare malignant tumour of the smooth muscle tissue that is resistant to therapy.

“Joining Professor Angelini’s team is a unique opportunity for me to work in the emerging field of inhibitors based on macrocyclic peptides and apply them to the development of innovative drugs to treat leiomyosarcoma,” says Ee Lin Wong.

The iCare-2 grants are awarded as part of a highly competitive call cofinanced by AIRC and the European Union, whose purpose is to train researchers of excellence in the field of cancer research, promoting mobility and career development.