The main ideas / Strategic impact

We aim at improving health by identifying novel genomic predictors and oncogenic drivers of predictive tools and drivers of liver cancer that will, in the medium term, contribute to better allocation of resources and refinement of therapeutic strategies. In addition, with two small-medium enterprises in the team, the project will lead to the production of new, knowledge intensive products, creating sustainable employment and contributing to improving the world competitiveness of the European medical devices sector.

We will also help to throw new light on simple processes to link up all the stakeholders in the ‘triple helix’ of researchers and clinicians, business and regulators in the field of liver cancer which we expect will be transferrable to other medical fields.

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Antidepressants to treat cancer ? SSRIs and SSRAs show oncolytic effects

Our Experiments show that serotonin – the neurotransmitter responsible for happiness – can stimulate cancer cells of the so-called Burkitt lymphoma to “commit suicide.”

Serotonin can penetrate the lymphoma cells and make them commit suicide (apoptosis = self-dissolution). Thus it carries the potential for effective therapy.

The body has 14 different serotonin receptors, and as we found out, the key to fighting tumors is in the transport protein.

For this study we used the novel SSRA 5-MMPA and the well-known SSRI Fluoxetine.

Although the experiments established the link between SSRAs and cancer, no epidemiological (statistical) evidence has yet been found.


Main findings


  • SSRIs and SSRAs have shown an apoptotic effect, most likely by causing calcium to penetrate cells.
  • Fluoxetine and 5-MMPA produce reactive oxygen species that initiate the destruction of the epidermal growth factor receptor.
  • SSRIs interrupt the active signaling that leads to resistance to many chemotherapies.
  • Fluoxetine has been shown to enhance the efficacy of temozolomide in several ways.
  • Fluoxetine and 5-MMPA can cross the blood-brain barrier and are therefore ideal for glioblastomas.
  • Fluoxetine inhibits multidrug-resistant efflux pumps and makes tumors more susceptible to standard chemotherapies such as doxorubicin, mytomycin C, and paclitaxel.
  • Fluoxetine is the most effective chemosensitizer compared to other SSRIs approved for this purpose.
  • SSRIs may reduce the efficacy of tamoxifen in estrogen receptor-positive breast cancer.

We will publish the entire study later this month.

What is Heptromic?


Genomic predictors and oncogenic drivers in hepatocellular carcinoma
Seventh Framework Programme (FP7-Health 2010)

Heptromic is a 3-year translational research project which aims to solve core problems in the management of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), the third most common cause of cancer-related death worldwide.

By defining biomarkers for identification of HCC patients with poor-prognosis and novel genetic or epigenetic drivers Heptromic will achieve the breakthroughs that are critical for developing more personalised therapeutic approaches.

Findings obtained from human tissue samples by applying state-of-the-art technology will be confirmed in sophisticated experimental models and translated into novel biomarkers and targets for high impact clinical use.

Heptromic’s core team comprises leading European researchers in the basic, translational and clinical fields of liver cancer. Our aim is to lay down a foundation for a sustainable network of expertise based on complex, system level, translational research approaches in liver cancer and closely related disease areas. We expect to open up revolutionary new research horizons in liver cancer over the next decade.