A hard-hitting group tackles cancer markers


Project: GlycoHIT

One of the aims of EU research funding is to act as a catalyst for communication and the generation of novel ideas and collaborations. A case in point is the GlycoHIT project, which features an international team, including European researchers, working towards solving the puzzle of carbohydrate biomarkers in cancer.

All cells and most proteins in blood are ‘glycosylated’ – that is they are coated with glycans, or carbohydrates – and these carbohydrates are known to be altered in many diseases, including cancer.

“Current technologies for carbohydrate biomarker detection are very sophisticated and very expensive, requiring a high level of technical expertise,” explains Professor Lokesh Joshi, Stokes Professor of GlycoSciences at the National University of Ireland Galway. “There is therefore a need to enable simpler, cheaper but reliable methods to detect carbohydrate markers of diseases, including diagnostic markers for cancer.”

Professor Joshi is Coordinator of the EU-funded GlycoHIT project, which has set out to develop technologies enabling faster and more accurate analysis of glycosylation in blood samples from cancer patients.

“Our group is developing new technologies and molecules to achieve these goals,” he says. “We are an international consortium with partners from Europe, Israel, China, Japan and the USA, working together towards common scientific objectives, but also training PhD students and postdoctoral researchers, and maintaining a gender-balanced research team.”

Good science means good teamwork
Science, at its best, is and always has been a collaborative endeavour, but while there are strong national research programmes in place around Europe and indeed around the world, these tend to focus their support on researchers within their own borders. Professor Joshi says, “Ambitious projects like GlycoHIT need a spectrum of skills from a range of disciplines. No single country has the leading experts in all the disciplines that need to be combined.

“EU support is absolutely essential to make multi-disciplinary international and intercontinental collaborative efforts possible,” he explains. “It means we can select our team members as we see fit, irrespective of their nationality or location. In this way, the best possible team is assembled by connecting with and bringing together a wide-ranging group of scientists from several countries.”

Making sure it is useful One of the founding principles of GlycoHIT is to incorporate innovative ideas into existing science and technology, with each contributor determined to take the resulting knowledge and new technologies to the next level.

“Innovation, in the context of GlycoHIT”, says Professor Joshi, “means discovering and testing real solutions for the biomedical field. We are doing exciting new basic research, which we hope to translate into relevant tools and techniques, with good potential for clinical and other applications.”

Specific steps being taken by GlycoHIT to maximise innovation potential include, first, involving key players throughout the project, including participants from both industry and the clinical fields, thus ensuring the scientific results are relevant.

Second, the project is focusing on exciting new biomarkers with good real-world potential, and it will apply its results to the development of new sensors that can underpin viable diagnostic tools.

“Finally”, Professor Joshi concludes, “GlycoHIT is working to raise the awareness of our work through dissemination, briefings, publications, etc. Such dissemination increases the interest and demand for our project innovations, as well as informing and, hopefully, inspiring other researchers to build on our work.”

This innovation was made possible by Israel’s continued participation in the official Horizon 2020 fund, managed in Israel by ISERD part of The Israel Innovation Authority (Formerly the Office of the Chief Scientist and MATIMOP). The initiative has taken Israeli R&D to the next level with the help of ground-breaking collaboration between scientists in Israel and Europe, as well as essential funding and support.

Project details
Participants: Ireland (Coordinator), China, Belgium, France, Germany, Israel, Japan, Norway, Spain, Sweden, United States
FP7 Proj. N° 260600
Total costs: € 4 878 903
EU contribution: € 2 993 056
Duration: January 2011 – December 2013