HEIST a research training program on cancer research

Many tumors are still not eligible for screening and are diagnosed only at an advanced stage. Cancer incidence increases with age, making cancer a particular problem in the ageing societies of the Western World. There has been substantial progress in the elucidation of cancer genetics, epigenetics and signaling in recent years that gave rise to novel drugs, i.e “targeted agents”. They aim at tumor-specific properties and some of them can improve the outcome in certain solid tumors. But there are also reasons for failure of these drugs. There is not only inter- but also substantial intratumoral genomic heterogeneity, which is likely to contribute to therapeutic resistance. There are parallels between ecological evolution and tumor evolution suggesting that the order of genetic events in a given tumor influences its future clinical behavior. Therapeutic means also exert some kind of selection pressure changing the molecular setup of a tumor. The challenge is now to better understand inter- and intratumoral heterogeneity as well as the evolutionary history of a tumor including genes and mechanisms that drive this evolution to substantially improve and individualize tumor treatment even at advanced stages.

The research training program Heterogeneity and Evolution In Solid Tumors (HEIST) takes on this challenge to educate the next generation of scientists in oncology research at Ulm University. HEIST is based on a group of Principal Investigators qualified in cancer research. The group is balanced with respect to experienced and younger mentors for the students. It is a training program with distinct admission rules, a coordinated study plan, intermediate evaluations, and interdisciplinary thesis advisory committees leading to a doctoral degree. The qualification program includes distinct teaching units on model systems in cancer research, the molecular basis of cancer, therapeutic strategies and analyzing and interpreting cancer genomes by advanced bioinformatics. To implement the structured qualification program in cancer research, HEIST acts under the scientific umbrella of the International Graduate School in Molecular Medicine Ulm (GSC 270) that is supported by the Excellence Initiative of the German Federal and State Governments, the State Government of Baden Württemberg as well as the Medical Faculty of Ulm University.