Fusobacteria and cancer

Vogel Foundation is supporting a new research project at the Würzburg Helmholtz Institute / Eckernkamp fellow starts work

Würzburg, June 8, 2022—The Vogel Foundation Dr Eckernkamp is supporting a new research project at the Würzburg Helmholtz Institute (HIRI). It addresses the interactions of Fusobacteria and cancer. The microorganisms can be found in various tumors and can have a negative impact on the progression of the disease. Valentina Cosi aims to understand the underlying molecular mechanisms and wants to develop new therapeutic approaches. The HIRI PhD student is already the second scientist to receive a fellowship in the current funding period of the Vogel Foundation Fellowship Program.

Fusobacteria are found in the human oral cavity and are an important component of the oral flora. At the same time, however, these microorganisms are associated with progressive tumor growth in colon, esophageal and breast cancer variants. By colonizing cancerous tissue, the germs are in direct interaction with the malignant cells and the human immune system. "If we could remove Fusobacteria from this interaction site, we should be able to affect tumor growth," Valentina Cosi hopes. In order to investigate the underlying molecular mechanisms, the PhD student at the Würzburg Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) is now funded as a fellow of the Vogel Foundation Dr Eckernkamp.

The Würzburg-based foundation had launched the fellowship program in 2018 together with the HIRI, thus creating a robust funding instrument. "The Vogel Foundation Dr Eckernkamp is committed to the long-term support of excellent research in Würzburg," explains Gunther Schunk, the chairman of the board.

"We want to further qualify the best talents in basic RNA research and infection biology as part of a doctorate," says HIRI managing director Jörg Vogel, adding, "It takes the brightest minds to do excellent research, however, we also require an attractive, excellently equipped infrastructure and ample funding. For this reason, I am very pleased that we can rely on the Vogel Foundation in Würzburg, which is a supporter at our side."

A new class of pharmaceuticals

As a PhD student in Jörg Vogel's lab, Valentina Cosi has devoted herself to so-called antisense oligomers (ASOs)—short nucleic acid sequences. "Standard pharmaceuticals, for example, are often designed to inhibit the function of specific proteins. Antisense oligomers target the translation of such proteins," says the Eckernkamp fellow. The ASOs can bind directly to a messenger ribonucleic acid (mRNA), i.e. to the blueprint of a protein. "If we understand at a molecular level how exactly Fusobacteria interact with tumor cells and the immune system, then customized therapeutic approaches based on antisense oligomers could be developed to eliminate these germs in human cancer tissue," says Cosi.

About the Fellowship Program

In 2018, the Vogel Foundation Dr Eckernkamp and the Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) in Würzburg successfully launched their first research fellowship. This program supports outstanding young scientists in their training and further education through a PhD. The second funding period has started at the beginning of 2022 and provides funding totaling 90,000 euros over a period of three years. Valentina Cosi is the second scientist to be awarded in the current funding period, following Darshana Gupta. The first grantee of the program in 2018 was Falk Ponath. He had also conducted research on Fusobacteria and their molecular functions.

Learn more about Falk's research:

About Valentina Cosi

Valentina Cosi obtained her MSc at the Paris-Lodron-University of Salzburg (Austria) in Medical Biology with a focus on immunology. During her master’s thesis, she worked on antibody cross-reactivity of allergens. In May 2022, she joined the Vogel group as a PhD student to investigate the treatment of Fusobacteria with antisense oligomers. The aim is to develop new therapeutic approaches for various cancers. Cosi is supported by the Fellowship Program of the Vogel Foundation Dr Eckernkamp.

About the Vogel Foundation

The Vogel Foundation Dr Eckernkamp was founded in 2000 by the publisher Dr Kurt Eckernkamp and his wife Nina Eckernkamp-Vogel. Its motto is "Participation in life through research". In the past 20 years, the institution has supported around 115 major projects with a total of more than 2.5 million euros. In addition to science, the focus has also been on education, culture and healthcare.


About the HIRI

The Helmholtz Institute for RNA-based Infection Research (HIRI) is the first institution worldwide to combine ribonucleic acid (RNA) research with infection biology. Based on novel findings from its strong basic research program, the institute’s long-term goal is to develop innovative therapeutic approaches to better diagnose and treat human infections.

HIRI is a site of the Braunschweig Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research (HZI) in cooperation with the Julius-Maximilians-Universität Würzburg (JMU) and is located on the Würzburg Medical Campus.


Britta Grigull

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Dr Britta Grigull