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Outstanding cancer research collaboration

Joint doctoral programme launched at IMC University of Applied Sciences Krems and MedUni Vienna

Funded through the Austrian Science Fund’s (FWF) doc.funds.c onnect programme, the TOPICO project brings together researchers from IMC Krems and MedUni Vienna. Their research is focused on the problem of resistance to treatment in cancer cells. This is the first official education partnership aimed at establishing a permanent PhD programme run by the two universities. 

The project team from IMC Krems and MedUni Vienna (from left to right): Wolfgang Mikulits, Gerda Egger, Harald Hundsberger, Rita Seeböck and Mario Mikula.

Cutting-edge cancer research

Titled Transformation of Pre-Clinics into Clinics by Organoids (TOPICO), the doctoral programme is centred on therapy resistance in cancer patients. Demographic change means that the number of cancer cases in the ageing populations in the Western world is set to increase sharply over the coming decades. In spite of the advances made in recent years, resistance to treatment remains one of the biggest challenges facing cancer physicians. This underlines the importance of gaining insights into the mechanisms behind treatment resistance and developing strategies that will improve treatment outcomes and enhance cancer patients’ quality of life.

IMC Krems is represented by programme coordinator Prof. Harald Hundsberger, head of the university’s Institute of Biotechnology, and Rita Seeböck, a lecturer at the same institute and one of its graduates. The TOPICO team members from MedUni Vienna are Prof. Gerda Egger of the Department of Pathology, Prof. Wolfgang Mikulits from the Center for Cancer Research and Prof. Mario Mikula of the Center for Pathobiochemistry and Genetics. 
The interdisciplinary team will take a systematic approach which involves generating pharmacological inhibitors, developing innovative patient-specific cellular models (called organoids), modulating relevant pathological mechanisms and finally validating the results using patient samples. The project findings will help to paint a clearer picture of treatment resistance and, in turn, promote the development of new drugs and biomarkers that will significantly improve treatment for cancer patients.

Interdisciplinary team

The project is an integral part of MedUni Vienna’s Malignant Diseases PhD programme and is specifically designed to build on the expertise generated in IMC Krems’ Medical and Pharmaceutical Biotechnology master degree programme. Synergies resulting from the strong network of students and lecturers that the project aims to build up will help to create a unique environment for PhD students, allowing them to devise their own highly competitive projects, as well as supporting their careers in cancer research, be it in industry or the academic sector. 

“TOPICO is the first official education partnership between IMC Krems and MedUni Vienna aimed at establishing a permanent PhD programme offered by the two universities,” commented programme coordinator Prof. Harald Hundsberger. “An innovative programme design and the close involvement of industrial partners and other stakeholders will pave the way for an entirely new form of first-rate PhD training, which we believe will provide the cornerstone for a larger applied medical bioscience PhD programme in the future,” he added. 

Excellence in teaching and research

In the second call for proposals for doc.funds.connect programmes, an international panel recommended four projects for funding out of the 25 submitted. The IMC Krems-MedUni Vienna consortium was among them. 

By providing doc.funds.connect grants, the Austrian Science Fund (FWF) has taken another step towards expanding structured doctoral-level education at Austrian research institutes. Doctoral students can look forward to an ideal setting where they can focus their attention on research into groundbreaking questions. The funding is designed to enhance academic excellence in both teaching and research. The project kicked off at IMC Krems and MedUni Vienna with the start of an international process – which is currently ongoing – to select PhD candidates from Austria and abroad.