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TWINNING ON DNA-BASED CANCER VACCINES

Periodic Reporting for period 2 - VACTRAIN (TWINNING ON DNA-BASED CANCER VACCINES)

Reporting period: 2017-04-01 to 2018-12-31

Cancer is a major burden of disease worldwide. Each year, tens of millions of people are diagnosed with cancer around the world, and more than half of the patients eventually die from it. In many countries, cancer ranks the second most common cause of death following cardiovascular diseases. With significant improvement in treatment and prevention of cardiovascular diseases, cancer has or will soon become the number one killer in many parts of the world.
Application of immunotherapy in cancer treatment is promising innovative noninvasive and non-toxic approach to fight this drastic human disease. Immunotherapy is based on the DNA vaccine platform as the most promising due to ease and speed of vaccine preparation. There is a huge social, political and scientific demand for the development of this area.
During the last 10 years Rīga Stradiņš University (RSU) invested considerable resources into cancer research and at the onstart of the project had a big potential for the expansion of such studies. However, the focus of research did not involve the approaches for immune prevention and immune therapy of cancer and/or chronic infections (bacterial or viral) associated with the development of cancer, despite them being highly prioritized by the medical and research society. These formulated the focus on the immunotherapy of cancer and strengthening research in the field of biomedicine, medical technologies, biopharmacy and biotechnologies with the goal to simulate and train every step in the development of anti-cancer immunotherapeuticals and thus prepare scientists to active and productive research in this field.
THE LONG TERM OBJECTIVES OF VACTRAIN PROJECT
1) significantly strengthen the research in Riga Stradins University (RSU; Latvia) in the smart specialization area of Latvia “bio-medicine, medical technologies, and biotechnologies” with application to immunotherapy of cancer through building an up-rising connections with two internationally leading research institutions, Institute of Microbiology, Tumor and Cell Biology, Karolinska Institutet (MTC/KI, Sweden) and the Department of General Biophysics, University of Lodz (DGB/LU, Poland).
2) to synergistically involve in this up-raise another partner, R. E. Kavetsky Institute of Experimental Pathology, Oncology and Radiobiology of the National Academy of Science of Ukraine (KIEPOR), country newly associated to EU, in great need of positive changes and appealing for integration into the common space of the European research. RSU and KIEPOR cooperation should produce mutually beneficial learning effects and future collaboration basis.
The implementation of the project activities during the 1st as well as the 2nd final reporting period was going according to the action plan. Activities involved researchers of different levels, but special attention was devoted to the researchers in the early stage of carrier development.
Activities of the Steering Board were supported and supervised by the external project Advisors.

THEORETICAL COURSES (“DRY” TRAINING)
“Dry” teaching activities during the 1st period included one summer school (Kyiv), 2 conferences (Riga and Stockholm). During the 2nd period, the work was intensified. RSU, MTC/KI and KIPEOR organized series of conferences, seminars and workshops which were attended by VACTRAIN trainees and other researchers.

EXPERIMENTAL COURSES (“WET” TRAINING)
Activities of the 1st period included three wet trainings, one in Kyiv and two in Stockholm (1 to 3), individual trainings in Stockholm and Lodz, and two conferences (initially planned as workshops). Activities of the 2nd period were more extensive and diverse. The workload in experimental trainings was transferred from KI/Stockholm and LU/Lodz teams to RSU, Riga.Altogether the training was completed for 6 young, and 3 advanced researchers, each has undergone several experimental trainings, an average of 2,3±1.
Dry and wet trainings were organized locally, with participation of the Latvian and Ukrainian researchers from RSU and KIPEOR as well as external institutions, of the top level specialists from the Karolinska Institutet (Sweden), University of Lodz (Poland) as well as invited international top-level specialists.

CONFERENCE ATTENDANCE AND PUBLICATIONS
On 8 externally organized international conferences; 5 local conferences with international participation (2 in Kyiv, 1 in Stockholm, 2 in Riga) plus coming in Riga, in April 2019; 36 research papers plus 2 coming out in 2019, including 12 joint ones (10 published and 2 coming out in 2019).
Main achievements of the project, importance of these achievements and their implications to the society are as follows.
ACHIEVEMENT 1: PROMOTION OF CARRIER DEVELOPMENT AND PRESERVATION OF THE RESEARCH POTENTIAL - two senior researchers have successfully competed for research grants and continue their scientific career. Six junior trainees got a main impulse to develop their scientific career: four masters have started their PhD studies at RSU, one trainee has been able to compete for a position at an external scientific institution, and one started PhD studies abroad.
ACHIEVEMENT 2: CREATION OF A TEAM/TASK FORCE OF HIGH PROFESSIONAL COMPETITIVENESS
The implementation of VACTRAIN project resulted in the birth of a competitive TASK FORCE for the development of modern nanomedicines. This has been reflected by winning by the applicants of research grant of the Latvian Council of Science (“New approach to active immunotherapy of hepatitis C related cancer” LIVE®VAC, LZP 2018/2-0308, 2018-2020). Project team includes the Coordinator, one senior, and three junior trainees of VACTRAIN.
ACHIEVEMENT 3: DEVELOPMENT OF COLLABORATION AND ESTABLISHMENT OF CROSS BORDER RESEARCH LINKS PROMOTING HIGH LEVEL INTERNATIONAL RESEARCH STUDIES
Their progress is reflected by winning of three international grants with VACTRAIN members as co-partners: M-ERA.NET with Prof Bryszewska/LU as the coordinator (2019), research network by the Swedish Institute with RSU and KI as partners (Project Initiation grant; 2016-2018) and research network by the Polish National Agency for Academic Exchange with RSU and LU as partners (NAWA; 2019-2020).
CONCLUSIONS
VACTRAIN has succeeded in creating a task force capable of performing modern high level studies in the field of biomedicine, in improving the research environment and accommodating at RSU the development of innovative products and technologies in biomedicine focused on the immunotherapy of cancer. Further development in this direction, supported by the already obtained, and in-coming grants is gradually transforming RSU into an internationally distinguished research centre in the field of immunotherapy and biomedicine. It has also incorporated KIEPOR into on-going research, and promoted further development of this institution, putting both RSU and KIEPOR on the level of the research centres in the CORE countries and ensuring their sustainable competitiveness. With this, the project has completely fulfilled the concrete tasks, and reached all proposed goals and aims.
International Mini-Symposium, Riga, Latvia, 24-26 May 2016
Participants of conference in Kyiv, June 2016
Plasmid isolation
Department of General Biophysics Lodz University, Dmytro Demash, Taras Zadvornui (KIEPOR) 2017/02/10
Individual traiing at KI 2018
Trainees report at KI 2017
Kiev Symposium May 2018
Trainees at the animal house at KI
Wet lab on q-PCR at KIEPOR, Kyiv, June, 2016
Elena Kashuba (KIEPOR) and Ingemar Ernberg (KI) in Kyiv, June 2016
Wet lab on flow cytometry at KIEPOR, Kyiv, June 2016