Four Swiss researchers share $1.5-million grant

Four Swiss medical researchers and one from Spain received grants totalling $1.5-million for clinical cancer research on Thursday in Zurich.

Four Swiss researchers share $1.5-million grant
Photo: SAKK

Dr. Sacha Rothschild from the Basel university hospital, Dr. Nicholas Mach from the Geneva university hospital (HUG), Professor Adrian Ochsenbein from the Inselspital Bern and Monica Ruggeri of the International Breast Cancer Study Group Coordinating Centre in Bern were the Swiss recipients.

The fifth researcher awarded was Dr. Jordi Rodon of the Vall d’Hebron University Hospital in Barcelona.

The grants were handed out during the semi-annual meeting of the Swiss Group for Clinical Cancer Research (SAKK).

The grant is funded by SAKK, the Swiss non-profit Rising Tide Foundation for Clinical Cancer Research and the US-based non-profit organization, Gateway for Cancer Research.

The three groups got together in 2011 to form a strategic partnership to “accelerate innovative and relevant oncology research that may lead to more potent, less toxic and potentially life-saving treatment options for cancer patients”.

The grant, the third of its kind given out by the groups, was increased from $450,000 awarded to individual research projects last year and in 2013, SAKK said in a news release.

The projects awarded this year include therapies for improved care of lung cancer patients, improved quality of life for breast cancer patients and for elderly and frail patients with newly diagnosed myeloid leukemia.

Another research project is looking into cell-based immunotherapy for advanced malignant cancers while another is looking at the repurposing of a of the ivermectin drug to test its anti-tumour effect.

“Cancer remains a worldwide health problem,” Eveline Mumenthaler, director of the Rising Tide Foundation, said in a statement.

“With over 100 different known cancers that affect humans, factors such as an aging population together with the evolution of lifestyle continue to make cancer a major societal challenge,” she said.

“While new discoveries have brought about innovative diagnostic approaches and effective therapies, a continuous strong financial support is required to advance novel and evidence-based research.”

Beat Thürlimann, SAKK president noted the grant endowment was increased to mark SAKK's 50th anniversary in 2015 and that research in a number of categories is eligible for support.

”The aim of the grant is to support five academic research projects,” Thürlimann said. 

“This is entirely in keeping with the SAKK's mission,” he said. 

“As an academic research institute, we have been committed for the past 50 years to finding the best possible cancer therapy for patients in Switzerland.”

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Why Swiss scientists are asking people to bury underwear?

Digging a hole in the soil and hiding knickers under ground along with tea bags — yes, tea bags — may seem like a bizarre ritual. But in Switzerland, it is all done in the name of science.

Why Swiss scientists are asking people to bury underwear?
From drying line to under ground. Photo by Karolina Grabowska/ Pexels

As is often the case in Switzerland’s grass-roots democracy, citizen participation is needed to carry out the project, launched on Wednesday by the Agroscope research institute along with the University of Zurich.

One thousand volunteers from all over the country will receive two pairs of cotton underwear and six tea bags, which they will have to bury it in a field, meadow or garden.

After two months, the garment will be dug up and its condition assessed to determine the quality of the soil.

Advanced decomposition, researchers say, will prove that active organisms are living in the soil, which means it is healthy.

Briefs have been used by farmers for several years as an indicators of soil health.

“But so far no one has verified that this method also meets scientific standards,” said project director Marcel van der Heijden, ecologist at Agroscope and the University of Zurich.

But why tea bags?

The so-called “Tea Bag Index”, which is apparently a well-known phenomenon in soil research, will show long it takes for different types of tea to decompose.

As for the undies, the first experiment of this type carried out in 2019 at the Agroscope station in Zurich had shown that, in most cases, only the elastic band remains intact after two months.

The rest is devoured by earthworms, woodlice, bacteria, fungi, mites and other microorganisms lurking under ground. And that is a sign that Switzerland’s soil is in great shape.

If you would like to volunteer to be a local soil tester, you can order your underwear-and-tea kit here.