“It’s profitable to invest in research, but you don’t see the results in two years”

The Asturian Pedro Moral Quirós participates in a key study for the prevention and early detection of cancer. Behind are the universities of Bristol and Cambridge, the Sanger Institute, the Institute of Health Research of the Principality of Asturias (ISPA) and AstraZeneca. Moral (Pola de Siero, 1983), researcher at ISPA, explains to LA NUEVA ESPAÑA in Cambridge that “this work began while I was doing a postdoctoral stay at the Sanger Institute in Cambridge, under the supervision of Professor George Vassiliou, and continued after I joined ISPA”.

– Explain your work.

– It’s purely computer. During the pandemic, while we were working from home, we had a virtual meeting where we met Siddhartha Kar, an epidemiologist at the University of Bristol, with whom I co-wrote the article. This is where our collaboration began. We did all our work without knowing each other, precisely George and I met Siddhartha in person on Thursday, 30 minutes before the article went to press.

– What does it mean to discover the genes associated with the development of preleukaemia?

–Knowledge of these genes, or these genetic variants, lays the foundation for developing prevention strategies for this type of cancer, since we could identify individuals at high risk of developing leukemia.

–What keys to the prevention and early detection of cancers does the study provide?

–Identifies genetic variants associated with the development of clonal hematopoiesis, an alteration of hematopoietic cells associated with aging and which confers a high risk of developing leukaemia. Likewise, we show that tobacco is a causal risk factor for the development of clonal hematopoiesis. Identifying individuals most at risk of developing clonal hematopoiesis would allow the development of early detection programs with greater specificity. Even so, we have yet to identify which factors promote clonal hematopoiesis to lead to leukemia. This will be our next step.

– 14 genetic changes have been discovered, are there many more to discover?

Yes, there are many others. We know from other work that there are other genetic variants. Moreover, in our work, we discovered that certain genetic modifications or variants are associated with the development of different types of clonal hematopoiesis. This generates many more questions and complicates the study much more, but at the same time it generates new opportunities for more specific therapies depending on the type of mutation that generates clonal hematopoiesis.

–Can inherited changes be prevented?

-No, we have genetic variants because we inherit them from our parents. However, in many cases, just because a variant is associated with a disorder or disease does not mean that we will develop it. There are other factors that influence and on which we can act, such as lifestyle

– Is this a fundamental leap for better detection?

–This is further evidence that shows that many disorders or diseases can be prevented through screening or early detection programs. However, it seems that translation at the clinic is still expensive. More prevention strategies should be developed.

– What other cancers could be included in the study list?

–Our study focuses on blood tumors, which are those that have a closer relationship with clonal hematopoiesis, since their origin is common. However, it seems that clonal hematopoiesis is not only associated with leukemia, but also with other solid tumors, such as lung cancer, and even cardiovascular diseases.

–How to explain clonal hematopoiesis so that everyone understands it?

– Clonal hematopoiesis is a disorder that occurs when a hematopoietic stem cell, which are the cells that produce the different types of blood cells, begins to divide more than its companions and produce identical cells due to mutations in its genome. Since they are all the same, they are called clones, which is why it is called clonal hematopoiesis. On the one hand, this will mean that the cells that are part of the blood will increasingly come from a single stem cell instead of several, but in addition, this greater capacity for division will increase the risk of acquiring new mutations. .

– What terms are we talking about so that the results can have practical effects?

– It depends on what we’re talking about. In many countries, clonal hematopoiesis detection programs are already beginning to be implemented as strategies for prevention and early diagnosis. However, I think there is still quite a bit of time before hospitals put these measures in place.

–From what age should detection programs be applied?

-It depends on which cancer we are talking about. There are some who from the age of 40 should begin to be applied. In the case of clonal hematopoiesis, we estimate that at least one in 10 people over the age of 60 have this disorder, so between 50 and 60 would be a good age to start.

–What can Spain and Asturias learn from the UK?

-We have a lot to learn, but the main problem is not the lack of talent or the will of researchers, but the scarcity of resources. In Spain there is a lot of talent, what we need is a lot more investment, public and private, and a lot less bureaucracy.

– Has the speed with which the vaccines against covid have been obtained spread to other areas?

– No be expert in viruses, pero estas se lograron porque muchos centros y empresas llevaban muchos años de trabajo and investigation previo en el campo de las vacunas y de otros types de viruses similares y de repent les llegó un a inversion enorme qu’facilitó la aceleración de his work. Investing in research is very profitable, but unlike building houses, we cannot see results in a few years.

– Is this advance particularly important for a society like the Asturian society, so old?

“Yes, in fact it is. As we have shown, clonal hematopoiesis is associated with age, as is the risk of developing acute myeloid leukemia. We have ideas to try to promote a study in the area, to see if we can get funding for it.

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