Advances in microarray or lab-on-a-chip technologies have significantly improved our ability to study human cells and tissues. However, in order to develop novel therapies to combat such diseases as cancer, understanding the underlying molecular mechanisms is required and this is only made possible by developing new technologies.
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The team at the Canceromics programme established a world class laboratory to develop unprecedented technologies for cancer profiling and analysis. It has in particular come up with cell microarray technology for the rapid functional analysis of all genes and their role in cancer.
Canceromics was a €1.8 million Marie Curie Actions (MCAs) joint research programme between the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland and the University of Turku. Started in August 2004, the four year programme was also supported by the City of Turku and its Technology Development Company, Turku Science Park Inc. Canceromics is in fact unique in that a public university and state technology research institute started a joint project with the local government.
In order to attract only the best candidates to Finland, job opportunities were published in top tier scientific journals such as Nature and Science as well as a whole host of relevant websites. The Marie-Curie grants allowed for this proactive recruitment strategy which resulted in scientists who held senior positions at major US centres of excellence returning to Europe to launch and, indeed, maintain ambitious research programmes. Canceromics is thus a prime example of mobility in action.
The programme itself was also extremely multi-disciplinary, which has helped Europe compete with major US-based centres in the field. The team's track record in setting up new technologies has also been important for the EU innovation chain.
"The biological focus driving our technology development was the identification of causative gene targets in cancer cells, which we believe will form a basis for effective development of novel anti-cancer agents," says Canceromics Project Coordinator, Prof. Olli Kallioniemi.
The integrated analysis of cancer systems biology has been the main overall goal of Canceromics. However, as Kallioniemi is eager to point out, his team, in collaboration with the host institutes, "has also established itself as a major European site for the development and application of these technologies".
"We are well on the road to generating valuable research clues on disease mechanisms, as well as starting points for drug development," says the Professor. The fact that several multinational pharmaceutical companies have also become involved in the work adds clout to his statement.
The establishment of Canceromics has been crucial for the long-term training of scientists in important fields, such as biotechnology, drug development, cancer research, genomics and bioinformatics. Overall, Canceromics has started a chain of positive developments, which continues to this day. The project has led to international recruitment, counteracted the EU brain drain, generated major public-private partnerships and above all, come up with technologies and scientific findings that help us understand and hopefully one day cure cancer.
The programme has also proven extremely beneficial to the local job economy with the vast majority of those hired under Canceromics still working in the same laboratory – many now on permanent contracts.