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Anna Bigas, new scientific director of CIBER Cancer

Her research focuses on the genesis and renewal of blood cells and leukaemia

Anna Bigas, CIBER Cancer (CIBERONC) researcher at the Hospital del Mar Medical Research Institute (IMIM), was appointed the new Scientific Director of CIBERONC at the CIBER Standing Committee meeting held on March 26th.  Anna Bigas takes over from Joaquín Arribas, who has held this position since CIBERONC was set up in 2016.

The new Scientific Director, who has already been involved in coordinating two CIBERONC programmes, Mechanisms of Tumour Progression and Training and Mobility, is the second woman to head up one of CIBER's thematic scientific areas, after the appointment of Marina Pollán as director of CIBER Epidemiology and Public Health. Dr. Bigas highlighted "the enormous scientific potential of the groups comprising CIBERONC to collaboratively address major challenges in oncology, as has already been demonstrated on several occasions. At such a critical time as the present, we need to make even more effort to unite all possible human and economic efforts to progress in the fight against cancer. In this sense, CIBERONC is able to provide unique and valuable support, making this advance a reality”.

Dr. Anna Bigas, left of the photo, along with her IMIM Stem Cell and Cancer Research Group. Source: IMIM.

Research career

Anna Bigas has a PhD in Cell Biology from the University of Barcelona. She has dedicated her research career to the study of how stem cells that maintain different tissues in good physiological condition are generated and renewed. These processes are similar to those tumours use to perpetuate themselves. Her work has a special focus on  the haematopoietic system (through which blood cells are generated) and the processes involved in leukaemia (leukaemogenesis).

In this field, her pioneering work as a postdoctoral researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle (1993-1997) led to the identification of a role of the Notch signalling pathway in haematopoietic differentiation. As an independent researcher at the Institute of Oncology Research (Institut de Recerca Oncológica; IRO) (1998-2000), the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (Institut d'Investigació Biomèdica de Bellvitge; IDIBELL) (2000-2008), and the IMIM (2009-), she has continued to decipher the molecular mechanisms that regulate the engagement, maintenance, differentiation and oncogenic transformation of stem cells, mainly focusing on the haematopoietic system.

Through genetic studies, her group has demonstrated crucial functions for the Notch and Wnt signalling pathways in generating haematopoietic stem cells in mice embryos. One of her contributions is the discovery of the role of Notch in regulating  programmed cell death in erythroid lineages (red blood cells). Also significant is her work on how Notch and Wnt contribute to acute T-cell lymphoblastic leukaemia (T-ALL) and cutaneous T-cell lymphoma (CTCL), as well as intestinal development and colon cancer. Furthermore, her work in collaboration with Dr. Lluis Espinosa's group has helped identify NFkB as a novel therapeutic target for treating cutaneous T-cell lymphoma, and they have also discovered new functions for specific NFkB elements in colorectal cancer and squamous cell carcinomas of the skin. These studies have provided important information on how leukaemia and cancer cells function.

Anna Bigas is a member of the International Society for Experimental Haematology (ISEH), the Spanish Association of Haematology and Haemotherapy (Asociación Española de Hematología y Hemoterapia ; AEHH), the European Haematology Association (EHA), and the Spanish Association of Cancer Research (Asociación Española de Investigación sobre el Cáncer; ASEICA). She was also an appointed member of the Spanish Agency for the Evaluation of Scientific Research (Agencia Española de Evaluación de la Investigación Científica; ANEP) (2012-2015), and currently serves as a reviewer for the European Research Council (ERC), the Research Council of Finland, and the Research Council of Lithuania. In addition, she has been an occasional reviewer for the Research Council of Norway, the Medical Research Council (UK), the ANR (Agence Nationale de la Recherche, France) and the Ministry of Science in Israel. She has also been elected as a member of the EMBO. Recognitions of her research career include awards from the WCR (Worldwide Cancer Research), the Spanish Association Against Cancer (Asociación Española Contra el Cáncer; AECC) and the Fundació Marató TV3.

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