Laying the foundations for new cancer therapies

The Italian scientist Nicola Aceto will receive the Swiss Science Prize Latsis 2021 worth CHF 100,000. Aceto is an associate professor at ETH Zurich and is being honoured for his groundbreaking discoveries in the field of cancer research.
ETH Zurich professor Nicola Aceto is being awarded the Swiss Science Prize Latsis 2021. (Photograph: Daniel Rihs)

If a tumour forms metastases, it often becomes life-threatening – indeed, these offshoots are responsible for over 90 percent of all cancer-related deaths worldwide. Metastases are formed by “circulating tumour cells” (CTCs) that leave the original tumour and travel to other organs via the bloodstream. Once there, they form new tumours.

Nicola Aceto, Associate Professor of Molecular Oncology at ETH Zurich, has made a number of important discoveries as part of his research into these circulating tumour cells. For example, he has discovered that it is particularly common for aggregates of CTCs to form metastases, and that these CTC clusters are a key factor in the development of prostate and breast cancer. From this finding, the researcher deduced that the spread of cancer within the body could be reduced if it were possible to break up the CTC clusters using medications. Aceto has also succeeded in isolating viable circulating cells from almost all types of cancer.

These and other findings from his research have already been applied in clinical trials involving patients with metastatic cancer and have contributed to set the foundation for the development of diagnostic and prognostic tools.

Developing new therapies for metastases

Aceto and his team continue to set themselves ambitious goals: “The Latsis Prize is a great honour for my research group and me. It encourages us to push ahead with our efforts with the same sense of ambition as before in order to develop new therapies to combat and suppress metastases in patients.”

Nicola Aceto was born in Italy in 1982 and studied medical and pharmaceutical biotechnology at Università del Piemonte Orientale in Novara before obtaining a doctorate at the Friedrich Miescher Institute (FMI) in Basel. After spending a year as a postdoc at the FMI, he began another postdoc position at Harvard Medical School. Following several years as a group leader and SNSF Assistant Professor of Oncology at the University of Basel, he moved to ETH Zurich in January 2021. Since then, he has been Associate Professor of Molecular Oncology at ETH’s Department of Biology. Aceto has already received three ERC grants and numerous awards over the course of his career.

Presentation in Bern in early November

The Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) was responsible for selecting the prizewinner on behalf of the Latsis Foundation, which will present the award at Bern Town Hall on 4 November 2021. At the same time, the Swiss Science Prize Marcel Benoist will also be presented to the psychologist Thomas Berger from the University of Bern. These prizes will be awarded by President of the Swiss Confederation Guy Parmelin, who says: “I’m absolutely delighted that we can honour two outstanding researchers with the Swiss Science Prizes 2021. Thomas Berger and Nicola Aceto both do a huge service to our society through their work and are examples of Switzerland’s excellence as a research location.”

The Swiss Science Prize Latsis

The Swiss Science Prize Latsis (formerly the National Latsis Prize) has been awarded on an annual basis by the SNSF on behalf of the Latsis Foundation since 1983. It serves to honour outstanding contributions by young researchers up to the age of 40 at Swiss universities. In 2021, the prize is being awarded in the areas of biology and medicine.