Cancer Foundation Finland awards major grants for research into prostate cancer, lymphoma and blood cancer

In 2021, the Cancer Foundation has allocated more than 7 million euros in grants for cancer research. The Foundation’s major grants were granted for research projects targeting prostate cancer, acute leukemia and B-cell lymphoma. The funded research aims to improve the results of cancer treatment so that more and more people will survive cancer.

A total of 216 applications were submitted to the Cancer Foundation by the deadline of 23 August. There were 160 applications for research grants, which included 22 applications for major grants. About half of the applications, including those for major grants, were classified as clinical cancer research, targeting patients.

The donations the Cancer Foundation receives each year have provided a wide range of support for research projects on cancer. The most funding was again allocated to research that does not focus on any particular type of cancer, about 25% of the total funding granted. Prostate cancer was the most funded individual cancer type this year, with around 15% of the total funding.

The Cancer Foundation decided to grant a major grant to two clinical research projects and two basic research projects. The three-year major grants of 450,000 euros for clinical research were granted to Professor Anssi Auvinen’s team at Tampere University and Professor Sirpa Leppä’s team at the University of Helsinki and the Comprehensive Cancer Center of Helsinki University Hospital. The major grant of 450,000 euros for basic research was granted to Professor Matti Nykter at Tampere University and the three-year major grant of 300,000 euros to Research Director Caroline Heckman at the University of Helsinki.

“The applications funded this year further emphasise research aimed at personalised cancer treatment. An increasing number of research teams aim to develop methods that can be used to target each tumour with the most effective and safe treatments possible. The proportion of research using artificial intelligence and machine learning has also increased,” said Jarmo Wahlfors, Research Director at the Cancer Foundation.

“This year’s call for applications again showed that researchers in Finland conduct high-quality cancer research in all key areas. They aim to better understand cancer behaviour in order to improve early detection and develop better treatments. This time, there was a particular focus on clinical research, that is, research involving patient care and disease diagnostics. The surgical treatment of cancer was a further priority within the clinical research projects. I’m convinced that the work of the major grantees and the other funded researchers will lead to significant improvements in the results of cancer treatment over the next few years,” said Sakari Karjalainen, Secretary General of the Cancer Foundation.

Anssi Auvinen’s research will influence treatment practices of prostate cancer

The Cancer Foundation awarded a three-year major grant of 450,000 euros to Professor Anssi Auvinen’s research team for a study involving a randomised trial of screening for clinically significant prostate cancer (ProScreen).

The study is already under way, and the preliminary results are very promising. The funding granted by the Cancer Foundation will help to complete the research and influence future treatment practices of prostate cancer. The researchers aim to find an effective method to screen for prostate cancer. Prostate cancer is the most common cancer among men. It is also a disease where overdiagnosis causes significant harm to the quality of life. The aim of this new study is to develop a screening method that reveals only dangerous forms of the disease, forms that require treatment.

Auvinen’s team aims to find out whether their three-tier screening model can be used to reduce the mortality caused by prostate cancer, without discovering clinically insignificant cases. A previous study showed that screening based on the PSA test alone slightly reduces the mortality caused by prostate cancer, but 15 to 20 additional cancers were still observed per each prevented death.

“The benefit of screening comes from preventing deaths through the effective detection and treatment of cancers that, without screening, would lead to death. However, some cancers diagnosed by screening do progress despite early detection. Other cancers, on the other hand, would not be fatal even if they were detected later. Targeting screening at those dangerous but treatable cases is a major challenge for all cancer screening,” Auvinen says.

Sirpa Leppä won major grant to study treatment of lymphoma – new therapies expected

Each year, some 1,400 people in Finland are diagnosed with lymphoma. A research project funded by the Cancer Foundation aims to develop diagnostics and novel, better treatments for fast-growing lymphomas. For example, the researchers in the project are on track to develop medicines that can activate the patient’s own immune system and better identify cancer cells.

Sirpa Leppä is Chief Physician at the Helsinki University Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center and Professor of Oncology at the University of Helsinki. Leppä heads a research team that was awarded a 450,000-euro major grant from the Cancer Foundation for a three-year study on optimal treatment for B-cell lymphomas.
The objective of the project is to develop diagnostics and improved treatments for fast-growing lymphomas through molecular medicine and randomised clinical trials.

“A key area in our research is mapping genetic abnormalities characteristic of lymphoma through liquid biopsy. Cancer cells release pieces of DNA into the bloodstream, and the amount of DNA can be measured from a blood sample. Liquid biopsy also enables research into cancer mutations in more detail than before,” Leppä explains.

The aim is also to develop tools based on liquid biopsy to direct treatment decisions and facilitate cancer monitoring.

“By lightening the treatment regimen, we can avoid undesirable side effects if we know which patients respond to lighter treatment. The idea is to establish an optimal treatment for the patient through liquid biopsy. We’re particularly interested in the correct targeting of medical treatment and in making sure that patients don’t have to undergo unnecessarily hard treatments,” Leppä says.

Leppä believes that a growing number of cancer patients will beat cancer in the future.
“We also expect that we’ll be able to contribute to reducing the harmful effects of treatment. It’s important for the patients’ quality of life,” she says.

Matti Nykter studies alterations of gene regulatory interactions in prostate cancer

Professor Matti Nykter’s computational biology research team at Tampere University received funding from the Cancer Foundation for a three-year study called “Regulatory Genome Alterations in Prostate Cancer”. The grant comes to a total of 450,000 euros.

Nykter’s team at Tampere University are working to uncover the molecular mechanisms of cancer.

“The aim of the study is to understand how genetic alterations caused by prostate cancer progression affect cancer cells. Genetic changes affect gene expression through gene regulation. Knowledge of the variations in gene regulation can help us better understand the activity of cancer cells and in the future possibly prevent prostate cancer from developing into castration-resistant prostate cancer,” Nykter says.

In most cases, the early-stage treatment of advanced prostate cancer is castration, surgical or medical. Castration usually produces a good result, but prostate cancer will progress sooner or later.

“Our goal is to understand why prostate cancer becomes more malignant,” Nykter says.

New epigenetic drugs, which directly target factors that drive changes in genetic regulation, are currently under active research in the pharmaceutical industry. Epigenetic drugs affect the regulation of gene expression, for example by restoring changes that occurred earlier.

“The main limitation is that we don’t yet know exactly for which patients the epigenetic drugs work and why. Our study can shed new light on this,” Nykter says.

Caroline Heckman aims to find effective treatments for blood cancer

Caroline Heckman, Research Director at the University of Helsinki, studies the mechanisms of hematological cancer, blood cancer, with a view to finding out why medical treatment does not always have the desired effect on the disease. The aim is to find one among hundreds of drugs that would benefit the patient in question.

Heckman and her team were awarded three-year funding from the Cancer Foundation for their study on pharmacological targeting of high-risk acute leukemia and myelodysplastic syndromes. The grant comes to 300,000 euros. The main objective of the project is to identify new treatment strategies for cancer patients.

“We want to find treatments especially for patients with high-risk leukemia. Conventional treatment does not work for all patients, and for some patients a previously effective treatment can become ineffective due to cancer mutations,” Heckman says.

Autumn grants awarded to 87 researchers or research teams

In 2021, Cancer Foundation Finland has supported cancer research with grants totalling more than 7 million euros.

Research and dissertation grants were awarded to 87 researchers or research teams to the tune of 7,250,000 euros.

The Cancer Foundation receives funds for cancer research solely in the form of donations. Through active fundraising, the Foundation has succeeded in greatly increasing the funds available to support cancer research. Donations are obtained from bequests, monthly donors and the Pink Ribbon fundraising campaign.

List of all grants.

Further information
Jarmo Wahlfors, Research Director, Cancer Foundation Finland,
tel. +358 50 410 1456, [email protected]

Professor Anssi Auvinen, Tampere University,
[email protected]

Professor Sirpa Leppä, University of Helsinki, Helsinki University Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Center,
[email protected]

Professor Matti Nykter, Tampere University,
[email protected]

Caroline Heckman, Research Director, University of Helsinki,
[email protected]