ERC Starting grant

Francesca Rapino gets an ERC Starting grant for her project tRNAtoGO

In Research Press releases

Francesca Rapino, F.R.S.-FNRS research associate at the Stem Cells-Cancer Signaling Laboratory (GIGA Institute / Faculty of Medicine) of ULiège, has been selected to receive an ERC Starting Grant from the European Research Council for her project tRNAtoGO. Endowed with 1.5 million euros, this grant was awarded to continue her research to describe the cellular origin of cancer stem cells (CSC) with the aim of developing new and more effective treatments.


ells integrate internal and external stimuli by continuously adapting their transcription and translation. tRNAs are heterogeneous and highly modified molecules necessary to correctly translate mRNAs into proteins. Although their discovery dates back to the end of the 1950s, it is only in recent years that their active role in regulating translation has begun to be highlighted, both in the field of health and disease. Cancer stem cells (CSCs) are a small population of transformed cells capable of supporting tumour growth and responsible for metastasis and drug resistance.

The incredible plasticity and genetic heterogeneity of CSCs make it extremely difficult to find global markers and/or molecular fingerprints expressed only by these cells. The tRNAtoGO project, led by Francesca Rapino, F.R.S.-FNRS Research Associate at the  Cells-Cancer Signaling laboratory (GIGA Stem Cells), postulates that the expression of a specific signature of tRNA molecules allows the establishment of onco-proteomes supporting the transformation of cancer stem cells.

Francesca Rapino wants to understand the silent conditions (tRNA) that "prime" a population of healthy cells to become tumorigenic. Advanced technologies will be used to profile, genetically screen and physiologically test the role of different tRNAs in the establishment of CSC. By identifying a signature of the tRNAs that characterize the establishment of CSC, the researcher hopes to generate in the near future a new technology to improve the early diagnosis of highly incurable cancers such as lung and intestinal cancer.

About Francesca Rapino

Francesca Rapino was born in Rome where she obtained a Master's degree in Molecular Biology in 2010. She completed her PhD in molecular pharmacy in Germany and joined the team of Prof. Frida in Frankfurt am Main. Passionate about research, Francesca Rapino continues her scientific career with a post-doctorate at the University of Liège (GIGA Institute) in the laboratory of Dr. Pierre Close. She obtains a mandate as a qualified researcher from the F.R.S.-FNRS and from Foundation against cancer. She has an Associate Professor position at the University of Maastricht (Netherlands).

Francesca Rapino's research focuses on understanding how cancer cells establish their proteomes - the set of effectors that carry out any biological programme in the cells. Since her arrival in Liège, she has been introduced to the world of tRNAs and has helped to establish the first link between cancer treatment and tRNA biology (Rapino et al., Nature 2018). Over the years, her work has been published in several international journals (Nature, Journal of experimental medicine, Oncogene, ...) and she has received several awards such as the King Baudouin Foundation Prize (2019), the Frederic Van Den Brule Prize (2018) and the Bonjean - Oleffe Foundation Prize (2016).

About ERC grants

ERC Grants are major instruments deployed by the European Research Council to fund research projects in Europe. The procedure, which is extremely selective, retains only the best researchers and research projects of the highest level, combining audacity and competence to tackle new research avenues likely, if successful, to substantially enrich knowledge. There are  5 types of grants: Starting Grants, Consolidator Grants, Advanced Grants, Synergy and Proof of Concept.

ERC Starting grants are designed to support young researchers (2-7 years of experience since completion of the PhD) with a very promising scientific record and an excellent research proposal.

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