Eduard Batlle receives an ERC Advanced Grant to study relapse in colorectal cancer

Eduard Batlle, head of the Colorectal Cancer Laboratory at IRB Barcelona
Eduard Batlle, head of the Colorectal Cancer Laboratory at IRB Barcelona

The ICREA researcher at IRB Barcelona obtains €2.5 M to identify residual cells that cause relapse after treatment.

This is the fifth ERC grant awarded to Eduard Batlle, and the 20th at IRB Barcelona.

Presented by the European Research Council (ERC), the ERC Advanced Grants are among the most prestigious awards given in Europe and are aimed at established researchers who have made important scientific achievements in the last 10 years of their careers. Eduard Batlle, ICREA researcher, head of the Colorectal Cancer Laboratory at the Institute for Biomedical Research (IRB Barcelona) and a CIBERONC member, has received an ERC Advanced Grant endowed with €2.5M to carry out his project Residual Disease in Colorectal Cancer (ResidualCRC) over the next 5 years. 

 

Residual CRC

Colorectal cancer is the third most frequent type of cancer in men and the second most common in women. Treatment usually consists of surgical removal of the primary tumour. However, 40% of patients who undergo this surgery experience relapse: the tumour recurs, usually in another organ, leading to a metastasis. These metastases, which often occur in vital organs, such as the liver or lungs, are the leading cause of death from colon cancer. The ResidualCRC project focuses on those hidden cells of the primary tumour that begin to spread before surgical intervention and that remain undetectable for months or even years, until they give rise to a new tumour. "Despite the clinical relevance of disseminated tumour cells, very little is known about them, and advances in this area would benefit many patients," says Eduard Batlle. 

Studies to date suggest that the mechanisms that disseminated tumour cells use to remain dormant differ from those described for other types of cancer, such as breast cancer. IRB Barcelona’s Colorectal Cancer Laboratory has developed a highly advanced model based on organoids—cultivable mini-cancers—that will allow the study of the mechanisms these cells use to detach from the primary tumour, evade the immune system, invade another organs and seed a new tumour. 

Fifth ERC grant for the Colorectal Cancer Lab

Eduard Batlle has received five ERC grants to date. In 2008, he was given an ERC Starting Grant for excellent young researchers. In 2013, he received his first ERC Advanced Grant, to support his research on colon cancer stem cells. In 2014, his project COLOStage was awarded an ERC Proof of Concept, funding designed to help scientists who already hold an ERC award to test the market potential of their research project. In 2018, he was acknowledged with a second ERC Proof of Concept to develop an organoid biobank that would allow research into the cancer-immune system interaction. He is now receiving a second ERC Advanced Grant to continue research into colon cancer metastasis over the next five years.

"Our laboratory has made great contributions to the field of colorectal cancer, thanks to funding from the ERC," says Batlle. "This new ERC Advanced Grant will allow us to hire personnel (postdocs, laboratory technicians, bioinformaticians ...), state-of-the-art technological services and to cover research lines that will advance our knowledge of colorectal cancer metastasis," he explains.

 

About the ERC

Since 2007, the ERC has awarded several types of grant that aim to support internationally recognised researchers performing cutting-edge research in Europe. Projects with a strong multidisciplinary component and innovative applications in emerging fields are awarded.

ERC Advanced Grants are aimed at established researchers with at least 10 years of experience. In this call, the ERC has awarded 185 grants, 55 in the Life Sciences. Of the 185 ERC Advanced Grants, 14 have been presented to researchers in Spain, of which 10 are in Catalonia, and of these 2 fall in the Life Sciences category. 

To date, the researchers at IRB Barcelona have received ERC funding for the development of 20 projects, which have received support amounting to more than €30 M.

 

International reference in the study of metastasis

IRB Barcelona is a leading centre in metastasis research in Europe. In the last decade, its scientists have contributed to significant advances in our understanding of metastasis and to improvements in the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of this condition.

IRB Barcelona undertakes multidisciplinary research in close contact with the main hospitals of reference in Catalonia and with pharmaceutical companies, thereby allowing access to samples and the transfer of discoveries made in the lab to patients.  In this context, in 2019, IRB Barcelona launched the #MetastasisChallenge, a fundraising campaign seeking to engage the whole of society in the search for solutions to prevent, diagnose and treat metastasis.