It takes dedication and hard work to yield results that benefit humanity, especially in the field of cancer research and treatment. These are qualities embedded in Catalan culture, so it is no surprise that many Catalans are recognised internationally for their contributions to oncology.
Four names are of particular note: Joan Massagué i Solé, Josep Baselga i Torres, Antoni Ribas i Bruguera and Manuel Esteller i Badosa.
The oncologist Joan Massagué is a researcher working in the fields of regulating cell division and metastasis of cancer. He has particularly focused on studying the signalling mechanisms that have proven to be essential for normal development of tissues and which are altered when cancer is present.
Massagué’s research has been decisive in understanding the mechanisms that prevent cell proliferation which, when uncontrolled, leads to the formation of tumours, and in contributing to the development of new drugs that can be used for various oncological indications.
His research has also led to identification of the genes which control metastasis of breast cancer tumour cells to other areas of the body and which cause the disease to spread, as well as the development of pharmaceuticals which reduce the effects of chemotherapy in sufferers.
Since 2013 he has been director of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in the city of New York. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences, the National Academy of Sciences of the United States, the European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO), the Spanish Royal Academy of Medicine and the Spanish Royal Academy of Pharmacy.
Josep Baselga i Torres
The Barcelona oncologist Josep Baselga i Torres, currently the medical director of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York, is recognised for his research in new breast cancer therapies and for his leadership to ensure that scientific progress reaches patients as quickly as possible.
In 2013 he became medical director of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Hospital in New York. In 2014 he was elected president of the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR), the most important scientific organisation in the world of oncology.
The press release in which AACR announced his election noted that “he is an internationally recognised physician-scientist” who has developed «innovative anti-cancer treatments which attack various molecules». “His work”, the note adds, “helped to introduce various new drugs including Trastuzumab and Lapatinib”, two compounds which have improved treatment for hundreds of thousands of women with breast cancer.
He has received the Honorary Membership Award of the European Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology (ESTRO), the Statesman Award of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO), among many other distinctions.
Photo: Real Acadèmia de Medicina de Catalunya
Antoni Ribas i Bruguera
Fellow oncologist Antoni Ribas has become a world leader in the development of new immunotherapy treatments against metastatic melanoma (the most fatal form of skin cancer which spreads through the body), which have been used as the basis for research into other cancer types.
He works to reprogram the immune system against cancer, based on the principle that our immune system already has the ability to recognise and destroy cancerous cells, yet these cells develop a defence mechanism and hide from the immune system. Immunotherapy is used to block this hiding mechanism used by cancerous cells, so that the immune system recovers its capacity to recognise and destroy them. The journal Science named oncological immunotherapy as the most important scientific discovery of 2013.
He is director of the tumour immunology programme at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center, connected to UCLA, and is vice president of the Society for Melanoma Research (SMR), the most important international melanoma research society.
He is named as inventor in seven American patents, and has won approval from the Food and Drugs Administration to trial seventeen new drugs resulting from the research on applying clinical treatments.
Manuel Esteller i Badosa
Sant Boi de Llobregat, 1968
Since 2008, Manuel Esteller has been director of the Epigenetics and Biology of Cancer Programme of Bellvitge Bio- medical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and head of the Epigenetics of Cancer Research Group.
His research is currently focused on establishing epigenome maps of normal and transformed cells, the study of epigenetic modifications and non-coding RNAs, along with the development of new epigenetic drugs for treating cancer.
In 2011 a study coordinated by Esteller, working at IDIBELL, discovered a substance which prevents the growth of cancer by means of activating the so-called dark genome (or non-coding DNA) and microRNA molecules. The study was published in the prestigious scientific journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
As recently as 2014, IDIBELL researchers led by Manuel Esteller have also identified the mechanism which converts tumour cells into glucose addicts. This substance, glucose, causes the fast development of the tumour, as it becomes the fuel used to multiply cells quickly. The door has thus been opened to researching, whether by inhibiting this dependence or blocking this energy source with drugs, how the tumour could be made to die, as a result of not having energy to reproduce.