- Senior Researcher of VHIO´s Gastrointestinal and Endocrine Tumors Group
Dr. Elena Élez has been a specialist in Medical Oncology at Vall d’Hebron Hospital in Barcelona since 2007. She is also the principal investigator of the clinical and translational research program for colon cancer at the Vall d’Hebron Institute of Oncology (VHIO), linked to the Gastrointestinal and Neuroendocrine Tumors Unit led by Dr. Josep Tabernero. Since joining the hospital, Dr. Élez has participated as principal and sub-investigator in multiple clinical studies in all phases of development, primarily focused on her main line of research, new therapies and identification of biomarkers in colon cancer. In particular, her contribution to the development of molecular typing and classification of colorectal cancer based on gene expression analysis and mutational profiling of the tumor, which has been crucial in consolidating VHIO’s gastrointestinal tumors group as a benchmark in colorectal cancer research, made possible one of the institution’s most relevant collaborative projects at European level.
The researcher is considered to be a national and international reference in the development of research against colorectal cancer with BRAFV600E mutation and microsatellite instability. This is a type of tumor that affects around 10% of all patients with colorectal cancer and is characterized by a particularly poor prognosis and high molecular complexity. Thanks to the research led by Dr. Élez, which has developed new targeted therapies for this type of tumor and helped identify resistance factors, the VHIO has consolidated its position as a reference center for this type of disease. This has led to a significant increase in terms of scientific production in high-impact publications, including three publications in The New England Journal of Medicine in 2015, 2019 and 2020, respectively. Dr. Élez’s research has also brought about the adoption of an extensive program based on liquid biopsy, a technique that allows the DNA representative of the tumor circulating free in plasma (cfDNA) to be analyzed by means of a blood sample. The aim of this research program is to study the predictive and prognostic value of cfDNA present in blood, in addition to the identification of possible biomarkers.
Currently, Dr. Élez is principal investigator of three competitive research projects within the framework of the EraNET JTC 2016, AECC 2018 and La Marató de TV3 Foundation 2018 programs. Also worthy of mention is the PROMISE project (“la Caixa”, Health Research Call 2019), in which Dr. Élez is leading the VHIO/Vall d’Hebron team. Together with teams from INL (International Iberian Nanotechnology Laboratory) and IBEC, they are working to develop a microfluidic system that mimics the tumor microenvironment.
In recognition of her research work, Dr. Élez was given the Best Young Researcher Award by the Catalan Institute of Health in 2018 and was awarded a PERIS grant for specialized health training. She was also the winner of an AECC grant for senior clinical researchers so that she might further her research career.
In the area of teaching, during 2020 Dr. Élez worked on the design and integration of VHIO’s educational program. This program aims to ensure the professional and academic development of clinical and basic researchers, as well as all workers involved in the care of cancer patients, and the dissemination of knowledge in the community itself, as established by the European Cancer Mission.
The VHIO Academy is part of the institution’s strategic plan and is an important factor in its search for excellence. At present Dr. Élez is supervising four doctoral theses nearing completion and has been a resident tutor since 2015. She is the medical specialties representative on the center’s teaching committee and coordinator of the resident training section of the Spanish Society of Medical Oncology (SEOM). In addition, she has coordinated the research module in the official tutor course of the SEFSE-AREDA foundation since 2019 and has actively participated in research projects for teaching that have been presented in national and international conferences.