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Salvador Aznar-Benitah: the Barcelona-based researcher who is seeking to defeat cancer and skin ageing

Salvador Aznar-Benitah: the Barcelona-based researcher who is seeking to defeat cancer and skin ageing

Barcelona consolidates its position as a scientific hub with leading researchers and first-rate facilities.


The Canadian Salvador Aznar-Benitah is head of the Stem Cells and Cancer lab at IRB Barcelona as well as co-founder and scientific advisor of ONA Therapeutics, an IRB Barcelona and ICREA spin-off founded in 2019. His academic training and career have resulted in numerous awards, in particular for his pioneering work on the mechanisms that cause metastasis.

Towards the end of 2020, he was awarded the Liliane Bettencourt Life Sciences Prize for his study on stem cells and the triggering of ageing and metastasis. The prize is awarded to promising young scientists by the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation.

Awarded to young European researchers engaged in innovative projects, the prize will allow him to continue his research on the role of dietary fats in cancer and ageing, and help to improve public healthcare with new approaches in emerging fields.

The more resources, the more research

The €300,000 prize highlights the need for systems to be put in place to help increase research funding and shows that managing these resources is a key task for the research sector.

In 2017, together with his colleague Gloria Pascual, Salvador Aznar-Benitah discovered a protein that plays a key role in the emergence and growth of many metastases. The pair also showed that the consumption of certain fats, such as palm acid, contributes directly to the formation of metastases and the progression of cancer. Since approximately 90% of cancer deaths are caused by metastasis, this study is a major breakthrough in the field.

Aznar-Benitah and his team have also discovered that skin cells lose their cell identity as they age. This alters their functions and their ability to regenerate. This research may help scientists to delay or even reverse skin ageing.

Recognition by the scientific community

In addition to the award mentioned above, which confirms scientific progress in our city and brings us a step closer to becoming a research hub, Salvador Aznar-Benitah has been awarded other prizes such as the Vanguardia de la Ciencia prize, the Banc de Sabadell Prize for biomedicine, and the Beug Foundation prize for metastasis research.

Work and research such as this helps the Greater Barcelona metropolitan area to strengthen its position as a scientific hub, attract international talent, and boost the research network. The work enables Barcelona to demonstrate its progress and excellence in science, showcase the pioneering researchers who are leaders in their fields, and draw attention to its first-class scientific facilities.

The scientific infrastructures and programs in the Greater Barcelona metropolitan area include the ICREA, the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies, which was created in response to the need to compete on equal terms with other research bodies and recruits talent from Spain and around the world; the Alba Synchrotron, a particle accelerator that uses light to make it possible to see much more clearly than in normal laboratories, a technique that has applications in the biological and other sectors; and the Barcelona Biomedical Research Park (PRBB), which groups several biomedical research centers.

Other renowned institutions include the Institute of Photonic Sciences (ICFO), the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), the Institute for Bioengineering of Catalonia (IBEC) and the Centre for Genomic Regulation (CRG).

Barcelona's combination of highly-trained experts, pioneering institutions, and appropriate funding will help to raise the profile of the sector and ensure long-term, cross-disciplinary investment in science that will act as an engine for the city's economy.

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