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Cancer Cell Biology Programme

Director: Erwin Wagner
Secretary: Cristina Alvaro

The overall strategic goals of the Cancer Cell Biology Programme are to achieve a better understanding of the events leading to cancer development, progression and metastasis, and to discover molecular mechanisms that could provide a basis for novel therapies. The 5 Groups investigate how tumours grow as ‘ extrinsic organs ’; the spectrum of investigations ranges from epithelial cancers such as liver, skin and intestinal, to bone and brain tumours. The research covers aspects of tumour cell biology, ranging from tumour stem cells, tumour cell interactions with host cells/environment such as tumour-associated cells like macrophages and fibroblasts, to the role of inflammation, as well as cell adhesion, metabolism and metastasis. Powerful state-of-the-art mouse genetic models, human cellular systems, high-throughput genomic/proteomic and biochemical tools, as well as patient-derived materials, are employed. At present, these aspects are successfully covered and integrated in an interactive and collaborative spirit by the complementary research areas of the 2 Senior and 3 Junior Groups.

The Senior Group, led by Francisco X. Real, studies epithelial tumours focusing mainly on pancreatic and bladder cancer. The Group employs an integrative approach to understand the molecular patho-physiology of these tumours and applies this knowledge in the clinical setting. Mirna Pérez-Moreno’s Group investigates the role of cell adhesion, inflammation and cellular signalling in normal skin physiology and cancer. Nabil Djouder’s Group aims to dissect the contribution of nutrient and growth factor signalling pathways to cancer development, and in particular to gastro-intestinal cancers. Massimo Squatrito’s Group, which is partly supported by the Seve Ballesteros Foundation (F-SB), studies how brain tumours, mainly glioblastomas, develop and how they respond to therapy. Finally, my own Group focuses on understanding the role of the transcription factor complex AP-1 (Fos/Jun) in physiological and pathological processes, with a strong focus on aspects of inflammation and cancer, e.g. in the liver, lung, skin and bone. We are investigating the role of AP-1 in inflammatory skin diseases, such as psoriasis, but also aim to molecularly define the causes of lung fibrosis. We have continued our efforts to study how the whole organism responds to a locally growing tumour in the context of a complex metabolic impairment in cancer-associated-cachexia.

One of our Group Leaders Mirna Pérez-Moreno left the CNIO at the end of 2017 to accept a Professorship at the University of Copenhagen (Denmark). We are very thankful to Mirna for her important contributions to the Programme and we wish her the best of luck in her new position.