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From cellular senescence and cell death to cancer and ageing

Final Report Summary - SENECA (From Cellular Senescence and Cell Death to Cancer and Ageing)

Age is the most important demographic risk factor for many life-threatening human cancers. About two-thirds of all diagnosed cancers occur in people over the age of 65. Since tumours include cancer cells with an extensive proliferative history, subject to senescence and senescence-avoidance mechanisms, cancer researchers commonly study various aspects of biological ageing. However, many cancer specialists, clinicians, and industry representatives remain unaware of what ageing research can offer for cancer prevention and therapy. Presently the research fields of biological ageing and cancer in Europe remain largely fragmented, without structured links or widespread interdisciplinary approaches.

Therefore, the main goal of the SENECA conference was to improve the awareness of ageing research among cancer researchers and to stimulate cooperation aimed at redefining molecular targets and improving cancer prevention and therapeutics in the ageing population. In greater detail, objectives of the project were to provide a forum for scientific exchange among outstanding European scientists working in the fields of ageing and cancer in such a way that the scientific profile is well balanced between these two fields. Another important objective of the project was to secure participation in the conference of key stakeholder groups other than experienced scientists (young researchers, industry representatives, research funding agency and government representatives, clinicians and other practitioners, health policy makers, representatives of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and representatives of the media) as well as to design future strategies to optimise interaction, networking, and collaboration between the two closely-related research fields of cancer and ageing, thus structuring European research in oncogerontology. The final goal of SENECA was to disseminate the knowledge resulting from the project to all interested stakeholders.

All of the above-mentioned objectives of the project have been largely met. Following nearly one year of preparations, the SENECA conference was held on 4-6 October 2007 in Warsaw. It was a unique meeting of scientists working in the fields of cancer and ageing, which occurred for the first time in Poland, Europe and probably in the world. More than 150 participants took part in the conference. Many of them represented the highest level of scientific excellence in their respective research fields. Discussions following each lecture focussed on issues such as biodemography, maintenance of genomic integrity, cell death and cellular senescence, immunosenescence and immunotherapy, stem cells and host-tumour relationships.

This conference would not have been possible without the work of the Conference scientific board (CSB) and Conference organising committee (COC). The COC consisted of representatives of each contractor, namely Prof. Graham Pawelec from the University of Tubingen, Prof. Vladimir Anisimov from the N.N. Petrov from Research Institute of Oncology, and coordinator Prof. Ewa Sikora from the Nencki Institute of Experimental Biology PAS. The CSB, consisting of seven other world-class researchers from both fields of cancer and ageing, decided on the final schedule of the conference as well as on the final list of invited and keynote speakers. Moreover, the CSB evaluated abstracts submitted by scientists who wanted to give an oral and / or poster presentation. Abstracts were submitted via the project website (please see online), which also provided detailed information about the conference itself.

Special emphasis was placed on participation of young scientists and to maintaining the balance between cancer and ageing components of the conference. Altogether 24 early career and 37 early stage researchers were selected and awarded travel and accommodation allowances. As intended, about half of the topics covered by the conference related mostly to the cancer research field and another half to ageing. A similar balance of participants from different scientific fields has also been achieved.

Although limited in numbers, participation of representatives of other stakeholder groups was also an important aspect of the conference. Representatives of industry attended the conference (e.g. Celon Pharma - an innovative Polish drug company) along with funding agency and government representatives (Ms Beatrice Lucaroni from the European Commission and Andrzej J. erzmanowski Hom the Scientific Council at the Polish Ministry of Science and Higher Education), administration and health policy makers (e.g. Prof. Leszek Paczek - rector of the Warsaw Medical University), representatives of NGOs (e.g. Robert Kenney from the European Association for Cancer Research), as well as many clinicians (some of whom also participated actively in the scientific sessions) and representatives of the media.

Not only did the conference increase scientific interest in the fields of cancer and ageing, but it also inspired several publications. A report on the scientific input of the conference was co-written by Graham Pawelec and published in the EMBO Reports journal. Abstracts of conference talks were collected, reviewed, collated and published in Acta Biochimica Polonica. A position paper entitled 'Immunity, cancer and ageing' has also been published in the BMC / Springer Open-Access Journal Immunity & Aging. Two more papers are undergoing evaluation by Biogerontology journal and a Bentham open access journal called the Open Longevity Journal. A major contribution will be the appearance in January 2009 of a special issue of the high-ranking Journal Mechanisms of Aging and Development including l7 peer-reviewed papers provided by speakers at the conference, co-edited by Judy Campisi, Will Bohr and Graham Pawelec. Several short reports from the conference appeared in various scientific and non-scientific newsletters and magazines, addressing questions of future strategies to optimise interaction, networking, and collaboration between research fields of cancer and ageing, as well as questions of effective transfer of basic research data and results into clinical applications.

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