Professor Magdalena Król, an experimental cancer research expert from the Warsaw University of Life Sciences, has been awarded a Proof of Concept grant by the European Research Council (ERC). The list of 90 ERC grant winners was published earlier this week. Magdalena Król is the only person in this group to carry out the grant project in Poland.
The grant enables Professor Król to study changes in the tumour microenvironment after macrophage therapy.
This is not the first ERC grant awarded to Professor Król. In 2016, she received the prestigious European Starting Grant worth EUR 1.4 million, the university reminds in a release.
ERC Proof of Concept grants – worth €150,000 each – help researchers bridge the gap between the discoveries resulting from their frontier research and the practical application of their discoveries, including the early stages of commercialisation. The funding is part of the EU’s Horizon Europe research and innovation programme.
Professor Król’s research concerns immuno-oncology, cancer biology, the role of hypoxia in cancer progression, therapy of solid tumours, and the search for prognostic and predilection indicators of triple-negative breast cancer. She is testing a new cell therapy for solid tumours she has developed.
She said: “The problems of modern therapy most often consist of the difficulties in reaching anticancer drugs to solid tumours, especially to their hypoxic sites. Hypoxic sites attract macrophages, which have the ability to migrate even to places distant from blood vessels, inaccessible to drugs or other immune cells. Thus, macrophages can provide a good delivery system for these regions.”
In her research, she uses a protein ‘cage’ – ferritin as a carrier of drugs that can be transported by macrophages. The ferritin ‘cage’ is easily absorbed by macrophages, then transported to the tumour and actively transferred to cancer cells. It is the TRAIN (TRAnsfer of Iron-binding protein) mechanism of ferritin transmission to cancer cells, which the team discovered.
TRAIN points to a new way of communication between macrophages and cancer cells, which can be used to ‘smuggle’ anti-cancer drugs directly into a cancer cell, which would constitute an innovative cell therapy for solid tumours.
The TRAIN mechanism was studied under Professor Król’s first grant (ERC Starting Grant).