The research project is part of the European Research and Innovation Programme Horizon 2020, one of the most competitive and prestigious at international level, and is funded with €3.5 million.

An international consortium co-headed by Dr Jesús Bañales, Head of the Hepatic Diseases Group at Osakidetza’s Biodonostia Health Research Institute (Biodonostia HRI), has obtained €3.5 million for a study of liver cancer (hepatocellular cancer), bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) and gallbladder cancer, in the framework of the European Research and Innovation Programme Horizon 2020. Together with Drs André Boonstra and José Debes (Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands), who will act as coordinators, and Dr Juan Carlos Roa (Catholic University of Chile, Santiago, Chile), Dr Bañales heads a collaboration between Europe and South America to determine new risk factors and non-invasive early diagnosis markers for these hepatobiliary cancers.

These tumours represent one of the main causes of death worldwide and are exceptionally aggressive in Latin America, largely affecting relatively young people.

Outstanding among the high death rate of these tumours is the lack of non-invasive, sensitive and specific early detection methods, since those currently in use are complex, requiring advanced imaging technologies and tumour biopsy studies. This problem is significantly worse in regions with limited resources, meaning that these tumours are generally diagnosed at advanced stages and with very poor prognosis. In the words of Dr Bañales: “To overcome these barriers, we have proposed the validation of biomarkers (inflammatory, proteomic profiling of extracellular vesicles, and circulating tumour DNA) present in blood and recently described by our research group, thereby enabling us to determine their clinical use for the non-invasive and specific diagnosis of these tumours. On the other hand, we want to increase the knowledge of potential risk factors (genetic, infectious) associated to the development of these tumours”. Within this project, a comparison will be made between the situation in Europe and that of Latin America. The project will therefore have partners from five Latin American countries (Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Chile and Ecuador), four EU countries (Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom) and Canada. 

Over the next 4 years, the Biodonostia HRI Hepatic Diseases Group headed by Dr Bañales will lead one of the 3 scientific programmes, on cholangiocarcinoma, and will actively participate in the other two (on hepatocellular carcinoma and gallbladder cancer). Other participants in the project will be Drs Luis Bujanda (Head of the Hepatic and Gastrointestinal Diseases Area at the Biodonostia HRI) and Raúl Jimenez, Adelaida Lacasta, Maria Jesús Perugorría, Pedro Rodrigues and Elizabeth Hijona from the Biodonostia HRI and the Donostia University Hospital (DUH).

Dr Bañales is an Ikerbasque, Miguel Servet and CIBERehd researcher, as well as Associate Professor at the Mayo Clinic (USA), University of Navarra (Spain) and Universidad Area Andina (Colombia). He is also co-founder and coordinator of the European Network for the Study of Cholangiocarcinoma (ENSCCA), as well as coordinator of a European database of patients with cholangiocarcinoma, containing more than 2000 cases.