Funded projects 2017

Online psychological counseling supports cancer patients

"For those affected, a cancer disease and its treatment mean a severe cut in their previous life," reports Dr. Imad Maatouk, Head of Psychooncology at the NCT. Up to 60 percent of cancer patients suffer from anxiety and depression. Psychooncological support can help reduce stressful feelings, worries and fears.

However, some of the psychologically stressed patients do not want to or cannot make use of personal counseling services. Reasons include a lack of time resources or physical limitations. In order to reach these people with a psycho-oncological offer, Maatouk and his colleagues are developing a web-based platform. This Internet-based counseling service is supervised by psychooncologists. They answer questions and provide assistance and guidance for everyday life - not in direct personal contact, however, but online. The new online service is intended to make it easier for patients to receive psycho-oncological support, regardless of where they are and as easily as possible. And in the context of aftercare, such a service also makes it possible to provide patients with long-term and sustainable support.

Before all patients can use the system, it will be tested in a trial period with 100 participants. The establishment of online counseling and the development phase are supported by donations.


New therapy method for breast cancer patients with bone metastases

Bisphosphonates are drugs that interfere with bone metabolism. For breast cancer patients, they are important if hormone withdrawal treatment could lead to reduced bone stability or if osteoporosis has developed. In addition, bisphosphonates play a major role in patients in whom cancer has spread to the bones, especially in breast cancer.

NCT scientist and physician Dr. Sarah Schott has developed a novel therapeutic procedure in the lab that is designed to both stop tumor growth and strengthen bone structure at the same time. The patented procedure activates the immune system and has been shown in the lab to destroy tumor cells. Now this new approach is to be taken from the laboratory to the patient. The first step on this path is to conduct preclinical studies using a tissue model (human explant model) of liver and ovarian cancer in the laboratory.

"The Explant model allows us to obtain information on the efficacy of the new therapeutic option in other cancers already in the laboratory," says Dr. Niels Halama, who developed the Explant model system. The researchers want to describe in detail the exact mechanisms by which the new therapeutic procedure influences the immune system. Donations will help fund the preclinical experiments. Subsequently, a study in breast cancer patients with bone metastases is planned.

Sports against fatigue in patients with checkpoint inhibitor therapy


Over the past decade, immunotherapy has entered clinical practice. These new therapies include the checkpoint inhibitors, also known under the trade names ipilimumab, nivolumab or pembrolizuma. They have revolutionized the treatment of metastatic black skin cancer in particular. Despite its success, the therapy also has side effects.

These include exhaustion syndrome, also known as fatigue. Studies have shown that systematic strength and endurance training can positively influence the occurrence and severity of fatigue and the quality of life. To what extent physical training can also help patients treated with checkpoint inhibitors has not yet been researched.

Dr. Joachim Wiskemann, head of the "Oncological Sports and Exercise Therapy" working group at the NCT, and his team now want to investigate the influence of physical activity in this patient group. Patients with metastatic melanoma who are starting checkpoint inhibitor therapy can participate in the study, which is supported by donations. A portion of the patients will exercise over a 12-week period either at NCT or close to home through the OnkoAktiv network. A comparison group will be observed without intervention.

Targeted therapy against a rare tumor

Chordomas are rare tumors that develop from remnants of embryonic tissue in the spine. They are often not recognized until they have already reached a considerable size and cause severe pain and neurological deficits. Chordomas are resistant to available drug therapies.

Therefore, it is important to develop new treatments that target weak points of chordomas. It is known that chordoma cells - but not healthy cells - rely on a specific protein - the embryonic transcription factor "Brachyury" - for survival. NCT scientists from the "Molecular and Cellular Oncology" group Marie Groth and Professor Stefan Fröhling now want to try to develop a novel "antibody" against this protein that can be used as a targeted therapy. To do this, they are not using normal antibodies, but a new class of artificially produced molecules that mimic the way antibodies work. These molecules, known as DARPins, bind to the target protein in the same way as antibodies and inhibit its normal function.

"With the support of the donations, we can further develop this new technology for a targeted therapy against this rare disease," Groth is pleased to say.