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Strategies to strengthen scientific excellence and innoVation capacIty for early diagnoSIs of gastrOintestinal caNcers

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - VISION (Strategies to strengthen scientific excellence and innoVation capacIty for early diagnoSIs of gastrOintestinal caNcers)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2020-12-31

Despite progress in diagnosis and treatment, cancer is the second leading cause of death globally and cancers of the digestive system are particularly prevalent. Slovakia ranks third for the incidence of colorectal cancer and is the sixth highest in the incidence of pancreatic cancer. An early cancer diagnosis is key to improve patient outcomes, and quality of life, while in long term it can economize resources within healthcare systems. Strategic partnerships between Slovakia and European experts, allowing the transfer of knowledge and research ideas, sharing of know-how, expertise, and best practices, together with the implementation of cutting-edge technologies, will contribute to the enhancement of high-quality translational cancer research in Slovakia, with a focus on gastrointestinal cancers.

The main objective of VISION is to strengthen the excellence and innovation capacity of the Biomedical Research Center of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (BMC SAV). Close cooperation with four European leading research institutions will enhance the credibility, competitiveness, and recognition of BMC SAV within the European research area. Networking activities will contribute to overcome existing gaps in oncology research and reinforce the capacity for early diagnostics and innovative treatment approaches. Beyond increased scientific performance, a collaborative approach may help to identify factors contributing to an extremely high incidence of gastrointestinal cancer in Slovakia.

Furthermore, the EU-funded VISION project will accelerate the personal and professional development of early-stage researchers, contribute to increasing the quality of education at universities, mainly medical and natural science faculties as well as positively affect public awareness of cancer and the importance of prevention.

Coordinator: Biomedical Research Center of the Slovak Academy of Sciences (BMC SAV)
Partners:
• Fraunhofer Gesellschaft zur Foerderung der Angewandten Forschung e.v. FhG (Germany)
• Hospital Universitario Ramón y Cajal (HURYC) represented by Servicio Madrileño de Salud SERMAS (Spain)
• Ethniko kai Kapodistriako Panepistimio Athinon, NKUA (Greece)
• Norsk Institutt for Luftforskning Stiftelse, NILU (Norway)
Development of the VISION project logo, present at all communication documents, and the website (http://vision.sav.sk) the main vehicle of communication and interaction with anyone seeking information about the VISION project, activities, news, and results were an early task in the project implementation. Furthermore, a leaflet presenting the project objectives, activities, and scope, and an educational flyer focusing on gastrointestinal cancer prevention were created and disseminated to the general public.

Four practical courses focused on the early-stage researchers and PhD students aiming to acquire new skills and knowledge in the fields of scientific writing, interacting with industry, proposal writing/preparation, and project management were organized as virtual seminars due to the coronavirus pandemic. From 20 planned training activities, only 4 could be realized due to the coronavirus crisis, while others had to be postponed. However, theoretical introductions for some training events (e-lectures) were prepared as alternatives. They are available on the VISION website (free to download) in the section „EDUCATION ACTIVITIES“ - http://vision.sav.sk/education.html

The VISION partners were involved in mentoring and co-supervision of 7 PhD studies and the reputed clinician experts from HURYC (Spain) gave invited keynote lectures dedicated to pancreatic cancer.

An important part of VISION is to contribute to building up scientific knowledge in society. In close collaboration with Cancer Research Foundation (CRF), BMC SAV co-organized a popularization-educational event called the “Scientific Workshop – Oncology” (SWO) targeting high school students to motivate them for studying science. In total, 112 lectures at 37 high schools, including one in Ukraine, were given (http://www.sss421.sk/vdo-2020-prednasky/).
The VISION project provides a valuable opportunity to increase the credibility and reputation of BMC SAV at the international level due to collaboration with internationally-recognized institutions. Networking activities will strengthen the scientific excellence and competitiveness of BMC SAV in ERA and promote the personal and professional development of early-stage researchers.

VISION advances/expected results:

i) Increased research excellence of BMC SAV in gastrointestinal cancer research and nanomedicine
The training events in the different areas of biotechnology (microfluidic systems, nanobiosensors), nanosafety (HTP technology for screening nanosafety), and translational research (patient-derived xenografts and organoids, cancer-specific biomarkers, liquid biopsy, exosomes) will increase the scientific potential of BMC SAV and will help to direct the excellence and knowledge towards innovative biomedical research.

ii) Improved capability to compete successfully for national, EU, and internationally competitive research funding
The strong research network built up via VISION will ensure that BMC SAV gains new experience, confidence, skills, and competence to succeed in highly competitive international funding. The ambition of VISION is to create a strong partnership, communication, and knowledge exchange in interdisciplinary research that will considerably increase the competitiveness of BMC SAV.

iii) Enhancing the reputation, attractiveness, and networking activities of BMC SAV at both international and national levels
With the implementation of the VISION project, BMC SAV will offer new possibilities for carrier development of both young and experienced researchers that will in turn help to counter the brain-drain in Slovakia. Additionally, BMC SAV will become an attractive partner for international collaboration and new international project proposal applications. Training and practical courses realized within VISION will contribute to the development and acquisition of scientific and technical skills of young scientists and medical doctors, positively affecting their personal professional development.

iv) New avenues of cancer research, creativity, and the development of new approaches in early diagnosis and treatment of cancer
The collaboration with VISION partners will lead to innovative biomedical research, resulting in new approaches to patient treatment, novel nanomedicines, and potential patent applications. Nanotechnology in cancer treatments provides a wide range of new tools and possibilities, from earlier diagnostics and improved imaging to better, more efficient, and more targeted therapies.

v) Translation of scientific knowledge beyond the professional community at the national level.
VISION allows the dissemination of knowledge about progress in the development of state-of-art diagnostics and treatment modalities to the larger research community, medical experts, health care professionals, and the pharmaceutical sector. It will strengthen the overall scientific, technical, and innovation capacity of the BMC SAV, in one of the fastest-growing and revolutionary branches of healthcare - nanobiomedicine.
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