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FoReCaST Report Summary

Project ID: 668983
Funded under: H2020-EU.4.c.

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - FoReCaST (Forefront Research in 3D Disease Cancer Models as in vitro Screening Technologies)

Reporting period: 2015-07-01 to 2016-09-30

Summary of the context and overall objectives of the project

FoReCaST aims to accomplish the following objectives:
i) Scientific objectives: development of in vitro 3D cancer models, replicating the complexity and hierarchically organization of natural ECM of tumour cells found in vivo. UMINHO will strategically use the knowledge gained during the last ~20years in the fields of biomaterials sciences and tissue engineering. Five new complementary research topics will be implemented to consolidate this new research topic within the PT11. Experienced researchers (ER) will be hired within the following topics: Metabolic glycoengineering for tumour imaging (RL1); Bioinformatics (RL2); Cell engineering (RL3); Nanotechnologies (RL4); and Cell signalling (RL5).
ii) Strategic objectives: the 'ERA Chairs' team will support UMINHO to establish itself in the field of cancer research. By increasing the critical mass of excellent researchers, UMINHO aims to enhance its research outputs, including number of publications and citations. Moreover, by supporting the creation of a new research domain, FoReCaST will strength the UMINHO ability to attract competitive funding, at regional, national and international levels, through an active policy of collaboration with different institutions and financing agencies, e.g. the EU framework programmes.
iii) Regional/Political objectives: The topics identified in this new research domain are critical for the development of new therapies and the translation of these into the clinics. Thus UMINHO expects to impact on: 1) Human health - by supporting the development of a regional and national policy for internationally recognised research in the field of cancer; 2) Training and education – by boosting the development of a new generation highly-trained researchers able to work and communicate in multidisciplinary teams and possessing the combination of fundamental and applied skills related to the development of advanced in vitro 3D cancer models; 3) Regional networking – by improving the dialog and R&D interactions between the regional institutions working in the field of cancer namely hospitals, academia, Academic Clinic Center, local SMEs and established national networks such as Health Cluster, Portugal and 4) Social and territorial cohesion – by improvement of the qualification and employment rate of the local population.

Work performed from the beginning of the project to the end of the period covered by the report and main results achieved so far

WP1 - Recruitment of experienced researchers (M1-M60)
1.1. ERA chairs holder recruitment
The ERA Chair selection criteria was based on the CV of the candidate, evidenced by both high scholarly productivity and impact, and outstanding clinical and research activities.
According to the evaluation criteria and ratings for each of the candidates, and only having the possibility of hiring one coordinator researcher under this research position, it was decided to hire Subhas Chandra Kundu (contract signed on 1st September 2016).
1.2. ERA chairs team recruitment
Due to fact that ERA Chair holder has been recently hired, the selection of the ERA Chair team has a slightly deviation and could be concluded in early November. The call for hiring FIVE Assistant Researchers has been published. The final selection process was performed on Nov. 10th, 2016. It is noteworthy that several outstanding applications (n=25) have been received for the five ERA Chair Team positions (both from inside EU and outside), which assured that all positions are fulfilled with outstanding candidates:

WP2 - Exchange of knowledge and experience through secondments (M7-M54)
Due to the fact that ERA Chair holder is recently hired, the selection of the ERA Chair team is just completed. Thus, the predicted secondments from and to UMINHO did not start yet. It is expected that incumbents may join by end of December 2016.

WP3 - Intellectual Property (IP) Management (M1-M60)
This WP is devoted to the development and implementation of instruments for assuring a complete protection of potential exploitable results. The researchers will be instructed to create routines to effectively access the patent databases during execution of experimental activities, and to critically evaluate patenting drivers for all technologies developed, such as innovation, novelty and industrial applicability. For that purpose a training SOP will be available and will be presented to ERA Chairs.

WP4 - Organization of workshops and conference (M19-M54)
This WP is planned to start on month 19th. Despite, several research activities have already been developed, such as the organisation of a symposium on silk fibroin biomaterials at TERMIS 2017. In addition, the ERA CHAIR was invited to attend and present work at TERMIS AP, Taiwan as Key note speaker and chair the session held in September, similarly TERM STEM conference as Invited Speaker held on October, 2016.
WP5 - Dissemination of knowledge (M1-M60)
The work developed during this 1st year is being prepared for submission in scientific journals. The ones that, upon evaluation by the IP and Innovation manager, is considered to present a significant industrial and commercial relevance might be considered for patenting.

WP6 - Project Management (M1-M60)
We achieved most of the main objectives for the period. The deviations are essentially due to delays in the public tenders for the hiring of ERA Chairs holder and, consequently, the ERA Chairs Team.
Finally, the project logo, and project website were created.

Progress beyond the state of the art and expected potential impact (including the socio-economic impact and the wider societal implications of the project so far)

3D in vitro tumor models are still in the early stages of development, and several important issues still remain to be addressed. There is a continuous need for improvement of existing pre-clinical models, which engages interdisciplinary approaches of Tissue Engineering (TE) with Biomedical Sciences, Nanotechnology, Microfluidics, Biosensors and Immunology. So, for a near future there is the hope of using a great personalized models in the prospection of clinical result (high-throughput screening), and is with this promise that the researchers prolong the patient’s and quality of their health is maintained. Many successful strategies have been developed, but the technological revolutions associated to TE field offer cancer researchers many opportunities for developing better in vitro 3D models, particularly for investigating the metastasis processes in a deeper and realistic manner.
FoReCaST will tackle a huge health problem, i.e. the number of people diagnosed with cancer worldwide will increase from the 12.7 million in 2008 up to 22.2 million by 2030. The total cost of treating cancer has been estimated to be ~234 billion dollars in 2010, on the US alone. Another report from OCDE comprising 19 EU countries estimated a cost of 54 billion euros, ~120 euros per inhabitant. This burden is particularly difficult to handle since, on one hand cancer cases and deaths can have genetic, dietary and hormonal factors associated, and on the other vary among countries with different levels of economic development. In Portugal alone, the forecast on the number of cancer deaths is not good, ranging from 42,000 in 2013 to 55,000 deaths expected in 2030, i.e. an increase of 34%. FoReCaST is expected to make a huge impact on disease management and dramatically decrease the number of deaths associated to cancer, namely those malignant with associated metastasis processes.

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