Barcelona: a strategic hub in the fight against cancer

Joan Massagué's picture
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Convergence of several disciplines to serve health

Cancer is a major health concern in developed countries. Cancer is a pathology that encompasses more than 200 types of illness, each often different from the rest. In addition to this complexity, cancer cells have the capacity to spread throughout the body, a process known as metastasis by which they colonise vital organs and even prevent their correct function.

Research efforts in recent years have brought about a considerable improvement in the prevention and treatment of cancer, such as advances in surgical procedures, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and biological therapies. All of these have led to a reduction in mortality caused by some kinds of cancer. Clear examples of progress against this disease are the appearance on the market of vaccines against certain kinds of tumours, such as those of the prostate and uterus.

One of the great challenges facing oncology is customised treatment, which, in the not too distant future, will allow more refined diagnoses based on tumour genetics and on the characteristics of the individual patient, and also more specific treatments with new generation drugs that will substitute therapies that are more aggressive and that have serious side effects, such as chemotherapy. In this regard, advances in this field have been made in treatments for breast cancer, acute myeloid leukaemia and some kinds of lung cancer.

The progress made in the battle against cancer requires the joint efforts of biomedical researchers, chemists, physicists, physicians and computation specialists, and close collaboration between research labs and cancer hospitals. In this regard, the supra-structure MetCentre has been set up. This network of collaborations represents an ambitious project that has been nurtured in IRB Barcelona and in which the institute undertakes close collaborations with other research centres such as the Barcelona Supercomputing Centre, the organisation that manages the supercomputer MareNostrum, and reference hospitals such as the Hospital Clínic-IDIBAPS, the Vall d’Hebron-VHIO, the Hospital del Mar and the Hospital de Sant Pau. This initiative aims to focus on metastasis, a process responsible for 90% of the deaths caused by cancer.

At present, one of the greatest hopes in biomedicine is to turn cancer into a chronic, rather than mortal, disease in which life expectancy is linked to a high quality of life. Barcelona is now heavily involved in this promising project.


Joan Massagué

Adjunct Director, Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB Barcelona),

Chairman, Cancer Biology and Genetics Program, Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center

Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute

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