Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group

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Research Scientists

  • Rayan Naser
  • Sladjana Zagorac

Graduate Students

  • Mariana Angulo
  • Marta Foronda
  • Rosa Gallo
  • Irene Herranz
  • Yizhi Liu
  • Carlos Martínez
  • María del Mar Rigual
  • Paula Sánchez
  • Karla Santos
  • Zhaoshuo Wang

Over the last 2 decades, research has primarily focused on understanding the functions of mutated genes in cancer, neglecting the roles of environmental factors that can induce the expression of harmful proteins and tissue damage. These factors pose ongoing challenges, and their mechanisms in causing cancer-related pathologies are largely unknown. Identifying links between environmental stress and cancer progression is crucial for uncovering disease mechanisms and therapeutic targets.

Our laboratory employs genetically engineered mouse models and advanced technologies to investigate mechanisms of diseases associated with environmental stressors. We specifically study conditions related to toxic diets, nutrient imbalances, and sedentary lifestyles, which can lead to obesity and associated disorders, such as diseases of the digestive tract.

Our particular focus lies in diseases affecting the liver (non-alcoholic steatohepatitis, cirrhosis, and hepatocellular carcinoma), intestine (colitis and colorectal cancer), and pancreas (diabetes, pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer). These organs are primarily affected by environmental stressors, including nutrient overload and lack of physical activity, that can cause severe inflammatory conditions. In addition, their functions are interconnected and potentially regulated by the nervous system, through unknown mechanisms. Accordingly, we recently started to explore the intricate relationship between diet and the nervous and immune systems in aggressive cancers, including metastasis, a perspective we plan to emphasise further in the future, within the emerging field of cancer neuroscience and neuroimmunomodulation.

Furthermore, our research encompasses tissue regeneration (intestine and liver), the dysregulation of metabolic pathways in cancer initiation, inflammatory processes, and the initial stages of embryonic development, shedding light on fundamental mechanisms applicable to various diseases. Our goal is to guide the development of novel medicines, with a special focus on potential immunomodulatory therapies for these disorders.