Launched back in 2019, our VHIO – CaixaResearch Scientific Seminars Series educational program welcomes internationally renowned researchers and clinical investigators to VHIO to share, discuss and debate latest insights, discovery and next directions in oncology with our students, postdocs and senior faculty from our preclinical, translational and clinical research groups.
These sessions take place in VHIO’s state-of-the-art CELLEX Building Auditorium, although the majority in 2021, were hosted virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each seminar typically consists of a 30-45 minute talk followed by a Q&A round with the audience. Chaired be each respective VHIO host, these expert talks are usually scheduled to take place on Fridays.
In 2021, a total of 23 VHIO - CaixaResearch Scientific Seminars took place as follows:
Established in 2016, our annual series of Benchstoming Seminars represent an excellent educational opportunity for junior faculty at VHIO to both present and exchange on and around their respective research interests across VHIO’s various research programs.
Not only do our young researchers learn more about their other colleagues and research lines currently underway, they can also express their ideas surrounding a given topic presented at each seminar; the specially crafted informal format favors free thought, flow, and interaction between the speakers and participants.
Reflective of VHIO’s purely translational and multidisciplinary research model, 2021 marked the launch of additional seminars that counted on the participation and expertise of our Clinical Investigators and Medical Oncologists.
In 2021, 18 Benchstorming Sessions took place, mostly remotely online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Each invited VHIO investigator(s) discussed and ‘benchstormed’ their respective research areas as follows:
Based on specific lines and research areas that continue to position VHIO as a leading international reference, we share our expertise, learn from eminent guest speakers, discuss and debate our latest findings through the organization of VHIO ad-hoc courses and workshops.
Exchanging latest discovery in cancer science and medicine, VHIO organized 18 Courses, Workshops, Observerships and Perceptorships in 2021. Naturally, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the majority of these were hosted and conducted virtually, online.
In addition to these educational opportunities, we have organized and streamed several expert talks and presentations, as well as produced, published and disseminated various on-demand webinars covering a broad range of topics and tumor types.
VHIO supports and organizes activities to increase public interest in cancer research and promote the important advances reported by our scientists and clinical investigators. These efforts are aimed at patients, youngsters and non-specialized adult audiences to enrich scientific culture as well as promote science as a stimulating career path for young people – the future of our research.
Importantly, some of these initiatives have resulted in considerable funding for research at VHIO, as documented in this section of our scientific report. We will continue to seek out, lead and participate in all these precious initiatives and launch new ones based on identified opportunities.
In addition to VHIO’s comprehensive lay media program, the invited participation of our researchers and clinical investigators across a broad range of communication channels, and campaigns tailored to our social media platforms and respective target audiences, VHIO led and/or participated in several public outreach events, programs and fundraising initiatives in 2021.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of our planned activities had to be cancelled or postponed. The majority of those that could go ahead were either conducted virtually, or carried out in strict compliance with the stipulated social distancing rules and required safety measures.
Illustrative of these efforts, we take this opportunity to mention just a few of the many highlights in 2021:
At VHIO we are committed to organizing and promoting educational programs especially tailored to those who matter most; our cherished patients.
Providing opportunity for debate and exchange among patients, their families and loved ones, and connecting them with our physician-scientists, cancer researchers, and other professionals in oncology, we co-organize an annual series of breast cancer workshops:
Launched in 2015, these workshops are coordinated by Marta Capelan, a Medical Oncologist and Clinical Investigator of VHIO’s Breast Cancer Group, directed by Cristina Saura, and organized in collaboration with the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital’s (HUVH) Breast Cancer Unit, also led by Cristina Saura, and other expert teams across the Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus.
This year, these workshops were supported by Pfizer and icrom Clinical Research Office Management, in collaboration with the Asociación Endavant Chic@s. Due to the safety issues posed by the COVID-19 pandemic these events took place online.
In 2021, we launched a new monthly series of live online sessions covering several tumor types, that have been especially crafted for cancer patients and non-specialized audiences #VHIOATuLado.
Inaugurating this new series of special sessions, were VHIO’s Enriqueta Felip, Principal Investigator of our Thoracic Tumors & Head and Neck Cancer Group, and Head of the Thoracic Cancer Unit at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital (HUVH), and Alberto Jauregui, Head of the Thoracic Surgery Service at Vall d’Hebron. Discussing various aspects relating to the diagnosis of lung cancer, they presented on the recent developments in this field, including the latest advances in patient treatment and care.
Throughout each of these dedicated sessions, also including experts in preclinical, translational and clinical cancer research, participants are invited to post their comments and questions online to actively contribute and engage in the various topics that are discussed and debated.
In addition to the aforementioned inaugural #VHIOATuLado online session, the following also took place in 2021:
We remain deeply saddened by the passing of Pau Donés, singer, songwriter, guitarist and leader of the renowned Spanish rock group Jarabe de Palo, who, having been diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2015, succumbed to his disease on 09 June 2020.
Receiving treatment at our Vall d’Hebron University Hospital (HUVH), and cared for by our medical teams and specialists, particularly Elena Élez, Medical Oncologist and Clinical Investigator of our Gastrointestinal & Endocrine Tumors Group, he was a treasured patient, friend, and an ardent believer in the importance of research against cancer.
To raise funds for research at VHIO, he not only organized various Jarabe Contra el Cáncer sell-out concerts with his band and several other renowned musicians, but also spoke out to raise awareness on and around cancer. As Pau prepared for his death, he contacted journalist Jordi Évole to discuss his own final fundraising initiative against cancer. Eso que tú me das –the title of one of his very last songs recorded with his band- was to be the title of the documentary and very final interview, which broadcast in cinemas across Spain, following his passing.
Directed by Ramón Lara and Jordi Évole, and produced by Producciones del Barrio y Atresmedia, all proceeds were donated to support several research projects at VHIO.
Pau Donés, you will never be forgotten.
El Paseíco de la Mama (loosely translated as strolling for breast cancer) began to take shape when Inés Gasén was diagnosed with breast cancer during her pregnancy – not only naturally provoking fear and uncertainty for her and her family, but also raising many questions and doubts concerning the health and the future ahead for her baby.
Triggering a call to action in her mother in-law, Elaine, and driven by the need to bring a positive out of the then challenging times, she decided to organize an annual sponsored walk to raise funds aimed at advancing insights into breast cancer. Rallying support among their family and circle of friends and acquaintances, Elaine and her two daughters Pili and Susan, and Inés, founded El Paseíco de la Mama in 2011.
From the very outset, El Paseíco de la Mama has been a tremendous supporter of research directed by Cristina Saura, Principal Investigator of our Breast Cancer Group and Head of the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital’s Breast Cancer Unit, and continues to gain momentum year in, year out, with an increasing number of participants, donations and personal pledges.
While the 2020 sponsored 7.5 km walk along Zaragoza’s canal had to be held later on that year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this did not deter the fundraising efforts. This year, Inés Gasén presented Cristina Saura and Meritxell Bellet with a cheque for 38.485€. This support will fuel research aimed at reliably measuring blood estradiol in premenopausal women with breast cancer undergoing hormonal treatment, led by Meritxell Bellet.
Asociación Endavant Chic@s organizes several fundraising sports tournaments and other initiatives throughout the year. As a result of these efforts, it succeeded in raising 11.405,34€. This donation, presented to VHIO’s Cristina Saura, Judith Balmaña, and Marta Capelan by the Association’s President, Luisa Vázquez in 2021, will fund essential research aimed at improving outcomes and the quality of life of breast cancer patients at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital’s Breast Cancer Unit, headed by Cristina Saura.
Specifically, this donation will support a project led by Judith Balmaña, Principal Investigator of our Hereditary Cancer Genetics Group, aimed at better calculating the risk of developing breast cancer using predictive models toward more precisely anticipating and preventing disease in individual patients.
In addition, it will also co-fund research into the benefits of yoga in alleviating fatigue associated with breast cancer. A randomized study will include a group of patients undergoing neoadjuvant chemotherapy treatment who will participate in two weekly yoga classes online due to the issues posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, and a control group. This research is also supported by the aforementioned Paseíco de la Mama.
Em dones força, created by a group of friends in Riudoms, Tarragona (Catalonia) to raise funds for breast cancer research through a variety of activities, presented VHIO’s Cristina Saura, Principal Investigator of our Breast Cancer Group, and Meritxell Bellet, a Clinical Investigator and Medical Oncologist of Cristina's group, with a cheque for 10.000€ as a result of their fundraising efforts.
Meritxell Bellet was Elvira Mas’ oncologist. Elvira was a co-founder of and President of Em dones força, who sadly recently passed away from breast cancer. The official presentation of this important donation took place at VHIO’s CELLEX Building, and paid tribute to Elvira and her legacy. Fifty people, including her husband, children, family members, friends and neighbors in Riudoms, all of whom form part of Em dones força, attended this special event.
Funding will support Meritxell Bellet’s project entitled: Recruiting ERβ in the fight against triple negative breast cancer (TNBC).This research could potentially provide new treatment avenues for these patients.
‘Pañuelo Solidario’ is a fundraising campaign driven by the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital (HUVH), in collaboration with the lifestyle store Natura that produces and distributes these solidarity scarves in its shops and online. All proceeds will be donated to support cancer research carried out by two predoctoral researchers. They are Alejandra Cano of VHIO’s Breast Cancer Group, and Carina Masferrer, the Gynecological Biomedical Research Group at the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Research (VHIR).
Established in 2017 by the campaign’s ambassador, Judit Mascó, and designed each year by artist Clàudia Valsells, this fundraising initiative seeks to improve the treatment and wellbeing of women suffering with breast cancer and gynecological cancers. Timed to coincide with International Women’s Day, held annually on 08 March, the official launch of this year’s campaign took place at Vall d’Hebron in strict compliance with all the COVID-19 pandemic safety and control measures.
Alejandra Cano’s research focuses on STEPS – therapeutic support for cancer survivors. This project is dedicated to providing more resources and psychological support for patients after their diagnosis and post-treatment to alleviate anxiety and emotional stress, as well as tools to facilitate their reincorporation into daily life, both at the personal and professional levels.
Carina Masferrer’s research centers on developing new therapeutic strategies for the more effective treatment of endometrial cancer. She is currently assessing the efficacy of a targeted therapy with a small-molecule, ABTL0812, in combination with immunotherapy. This approach could open up new treatment avenues for patients, particularly for those with aggressive disease.
Celebrating its 6th annual public fundraiser, that took place in La Pineda, Vila-seca (Tarragona, Catalonia), the Associació Solidària Sosciathlon (Solidarity Association Sosciathlon) raised a total of 20.000€, that was evenly split between VHIO and the ENACH.ORG distrofia neuroaxonal infantil (ENACH. ORG infantile neuroaxonal dystrophy). This year’s sports event attracted some 1,000 participants and secured funding through sponsorship, event registrations, donations, and merchandise sales.
This donation will support research carried out by Enriqueta Felip’s Thoracic Tumors & Head and Neck Cancer Group that focuses on disease prevention, early detection and staging of these tumor types toward improving clinical outcomes. On behalf of Enriqueta’s team, Ramon Amat, Associate Researcher, and Caterina Carbonell, Post-Doctoral Fellow of her group, were presented with a donation of 10.000€ that will fuel essential research aimed at improving outcomes for patients suffering from thoracic malignancies and head and neck tumors.
Established in 2014, the Associació Solidària Sosciathlon fosters value-based solidarity, volunteering, help and commitment, and donates the proceeds from their annual events between two different entities, while promoting health and culture through sport.
Sarcoma is a very rare tumor type; representing between 1-2% of all cancers. It is also a highly complex disease with more than 70 subtypes; each with a different biological makeup and clinical behavior. For these reasons, VHIO’s César Serrano, who leads our Translational Sarcoma Research Group, initiated the SarcModel project that focuses on advancing cancer modelling against this disease.
In support of these efforts, Carlota Coloma, Director of the production company 15LFilms and alma mater of the documentary Backstage. Hablemos de un sarcoma (Backstage. Let’s talk about sarcoma), set about raising funds. Alongside her family, and with the support received from various sponsors, this documentary was produced in honor of her mother who passed away from sarcoma, in order to help other families going through the same experience. It also superbly documents how researchers and oncologists work together to seek out more effective treatments against this disease.
Through the Migranodearena crowdfunding platform, they succeeded in raising 15.000€ to help advance sarcoma research at VHIO. Specifically, this donation will spur César’s Group’s SarcModel project that ultimately aims to extend the promise of precision medicine in oncology to sarcoma patients.
We also take this opportunity to gratefully thank the many other entities, organizations and individuals, including our cherished patients, who also dedicate their precious time, energy and efforts in supporting our public, national outreach program as well as raising funds for our research through individual as well as crowdfunding activities.
World Cancer Day (WCD), 04 February, is led by its founding and organizational body, the Union for International Cancer Control (UICC). To mark the occasion in 2021, VHIO’s Director, Josep Tabernero, Enriqueta Felip (PI: Thoracic Tumors & Head and Neck Cancer Group), Elena Garralda (PI: VHIO’s Early Clinical Drug Development Group), and Director of our Research Unit for Molecular Cancer Therapy of Cancer – UITM, CaixaResearch), Ana Vivancos (PI: Cancer Genomics Group), and Alena Gros (PI, Tumor Immunology & Immunotherapy Group), were among other leading experts in oncology across the Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus, who were invited as panelists and speakers.
Including the participation of cancer patients, and aimed at the general public at large, this special event addressed key topics including the latest advancements in oncology, cancer prevention, and important aspects regarding the wellbeing and care of people suffering from this disease.
World Cancer Day 2021 not only celebrated its 21st birthday but also the final year of its ‘I Am and I Will’ 3-year global campaign. As importantly, it also recognized the extraordinary efforts of hospitals, cancer organizations, research institutes, cancer care professionals and providers, volunteers, advocates and individuals around the world who rapidly responded to the myriad challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic.
It praised the valiant actions of all stakeholders in oncology, including funding bodies, government agencies, regulatory authorities, and the pharmaceutical industry who continued to work together in maintaining progress in cancer research, treatment and care. Capturing just some of these amazing endeavors, the UICC launched a dedicated web page: Adaptations and innovations in cancer care through COVID-19 and beyond, that encapsulated the bravery and achievements of people living with cancer and their families, as well as the nurses, doctors, researchers, advocates and others who care for them throughout the COVID-19 crisis.
Coinciding with the International Day of Women and Girls in Science, celebrated annually on 11 February, several of our researchers participated in two different programs. The first, CONÓCELAS, was organized by the Asociación Española de Investigación sobre el Cáncer – ASEICA (Spanish Association of Cancer Research), in collaboration with the Red de Asociaciones de Investigadores y Científicos Españoles en el Exterior - RAICEX (Network of Associations for Spanish Researchers and Scientists Abroad), and the Ciencia es Femenino (Science is Feminine) organization in Galicia.
Taking place virtually this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the main objective of this event is to give visibility to the important contributions made by female researchers in combating cancer. CONÓCELAS, also supported by VHIO’s María Abad (PI: Cellular Plasticity & Cancer Group) as a driving force, connected around 6,500 students throughout Spain with 150 investigators to discover more about the work of today’s female rising stars in cancer research and oncology.
The second, #100tífiques, is a joint initiative of the Fundació Catalana per a la Recerca i la Innovació – FCRI (Catalan Foundation for Research and Innovation), and the Barcelona Institute of Science and Technology (BIST), in collaboration with the Departament d’Educació de la Generalitat de Catalunya (Deparment of Education, the Government of Catalonia).
The main goals of #100tífiques are to promote the relevance and role of women in science and technology, and foster collaboration between scientists from academia and enterprise. It also seeks to achieve a more direct and reciprocal relationship between science and society.
Now in its 3rd edition, 2021 counted on the participation of around 100 women in science (pre-doctoral students, postdocs, group leaders and directors of research from both the public and private sectors), including 13 VHIO scientists, who gave virtual talks to primary and secondary school students throughout Catalunya.
Movember, celebrated globally throughout the month of November, was established back in 2003. This public awareness movement has since gathered tremendous momentum worldwide; having financed over 1,250 projects in men’s health globally.
For another year, physicians, investigators and healthcare professionals at the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital’s – HUVH Urology Service, Vall d’Hebron Institute of Research (VHIR), and VHIO’s Prostate Cancer Translational Research Group (PI: Joaquin Mateo), joined together to support this campaign at the national level through the Fundación Movember, and the #MovemberTeam. By the year 2030, the Movember aims to reduce the number of men who die prematurely from prostate cancer through preventable causes by 25%.
This year, their official MOVEMBERVHIO/HUVH funding page invited donations, and encouraged the sporting of moustaches to mark the movement and promote via social media platforms #Movember2021, among other public awareness actions and activities.
One of the many Movember-supported projects includes the IRONMAN Registry, for which VHIO serves as the central laboratory in Spain, led by Joaquin Mateo, Principal Investigator of our Prostate Cancer Translational Research Group. IRONMAN is an international, population-based registry that will include 5000 men with advanced prostate cancer across ten countries, 500 of whom will be from Spain. It seeks to advance insights into the clinical outcomes associated with the management of this disease as well as better understand its biological and clinical diversity.
Nationally, this project is implemented by the Fundación Movember and co-funded by one of VHIO’s Patrons and Institutional Supporters, Fundación FERO. Counting on the expertise of investigators at VHIO and colleagues at the Spanish National Cancer Research Center – CNIO (Madrid), who coordinate this program, along with a network of global data centers and their participating sites, this project represents an important step forward in advancing precision medicine against advanced prostate cancer.
The Nit Europea de la Recerca (European Night of Research) is celebrated annually in more than 300 cities across 30 countries throughout Europe, including Barcelona. This event was established to enable members of the public to meet researchers, learn about their respective scientific disciplines, research lines and activities.
In 2021, this scientific soirée counted on the participation of a trio of VHIO investigators. Hosted by venues including the CosmoCaixa Barcelona, the ”la Caixa” Foundation Sandra Peiró, Principal Investigator of our Chormatin Dynamics in Cancer Group, talked about epigenetics and its role in cancer.
Carmen Escudero, a Graduate Student of Sandra’s group, and Joana Domènech, a Graduate Student of our Hereditary Cancer Genetics Group, headed by Judith Balmaña, led a workshop on genetic mutations in cancer aimed at younger audiences. Using pieces of LEGO® they superbly simplified a complex topic.
Promoted by the Ajuntament de Barcelona (Barcelona City Council), 2021 celebrated the 14th annual edition of the Festa de la Ciència (Celebration of Science) that took place in person adhering to all the social distancing rules and restrictions posed by the COVID-19 pandemic. This public event was established as an educational forum to learn about, consider and update on the many challenges that are being tackled through research of excellence.
Universities, research centers, including VHIO, other scientific institutions and companies, and experts in scientific communication, joined together to devise a stimulating and informative program of matched excellence in 2021. The agenda included over 120 different talks, presentations and activities for people of all ages.
Regarding VHIO’s contributions to this annual celebration of science, Carmen Escudero, a Graduate Student of our Chromatin Dynamics in Cancer Group led by Sandra Peiró, gave a talk on genetic mutations in cancer. Using pieces of LEGO®, she was able to creatively explain how faulty genes lead to cancer.
Marta Ligero, a PhD Student of VHIO’s Radiomics Group, directed by Raque Perez-Lopez, gave a mini talk on Artificial Intelligence (AI), to decipher the secrets of medical images. Throughout her talk, Marta explained how AI can advance crucial insights into cancer, representing a step forward in precision medicine in oncology.
Several other researchers and experts from across the Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus also participated in this event including Paula Galvá from the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital (HUVH), who gave a talk on the importance of telemedicine in the COVID-19 era and how it has revolutionized certain aspects of healthcare delivery.
In 2021 our Vall d’Hebron Barcelona Hospital Campus launched its first Science and Innovation Week, 15-19 November, that provided the general public with a great opportunity to learn more about cutting-edge platforms, tools and techniques on-campus that are shaping the future of healthcare, including augmented and virtual reality in healthcare, robotics, simulation, and 3D technologies. Including activities for faculty at Vall d’Hebron and other institutions, the week’s educational program also offered an exciting range of events aimed at younger audiences.
Forming part of Vall d’Hebron’s strategic plan to promote its innovation, driven and developed in-house, this event was also established to give researchers, clinical investigators, technicians and healthcare professionals who spur these stunning advances in medical technologies greater visibility in society.
The inaugural program also included five roundtable sessions covering healthcare and telemedicine in the digital age, as well as a series of presentations dedicated to spin-offs and start-ups at Vall d’Hebron. These included talks by VHIO’s Joan Seoane and Laura Soucek, Co-Directors of our Preclinical and Translational Research Program -both ICREA Research Professors- who discussed the value of technology transfer in society and the promise of these companies in improving outcomes for patients. Illustrative of these efforts, they each introduced participants to their respective VHIO-born spin-offs, Mosaic Biomedicals, and Peoptomyc.
This dedicated VHIO educational program (established back in 2017), welcomes under-twelves from various local primary schools to meet our faculty, tour our laboratories and learn more about cancer biology and research.
The main objectives of our Schools and Science outreach program are to teach young and inquisitive minds about the importance of cancer research, and hopefully inspire some of them to ultimately become the next generation of cancer scientists.
During their half-day visits our young visitors participate in junior masterclasses and hands-on activities to explain the origins and development of cancer, led and supervised by VHIO faculty. Unfortunately, due to the safety issues posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to postpone our 2021 program of activities. In view of the excellent feedback that we receive from students and teachers alike, we will continue to open our doors to all primary schools who wish to participate in this program, with dates already in the diary for 2022 – pandemic restrictions permitting.