OncologyColorectal cancer laboratory

Unraveling Cancer Stem Cells and the Origins of Metastasis

Colorectal cancer laboratory

Eduard Batlle

Group Leader

ICREA Research Professor

+34 93 40 39008

Colorectal Cancer (CRC) is one of the leading causes of death by cancer worldwide. Most colorectal tumors develop as benign lesions but a small proportion progress to more malignant stages when the appropriate alterations in oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes occur. The final and deadliest step in colorectal cancer progression is the metastatic dissemination of colorectal cancer cells to other organs, mainly the liver.

Our lab studies the initiation of CRC and its progression from the early stages to the formation of aggressive tumors. We develop and examine cell and animal models that mimic this devastating disease. The ultimate goal is to obtain information that allows us to design new therapeutic and diagnostic tools.

1) Intestinal stem cells and CRC stem cells
Our studies address the identification, isolation and profiling of normal crypt stem cells and their malignant counterparts. We aim to identify the relationship between cell renewal in the intestinal epithelium and the initiation and progression of CRC.

2) EphB/ephrinB receptors in CRC
We recently demonstrated that the beta-catenin/Tcf target genes EphB2 and EphB3, two receptors of ephrinB ligands, suppress CRC progression beyond the early stages of tumor development. Most CRC silence the expression of EphB receptors around the adenoma-carcinoma transition, despite constitutive Wnt signalling. We are currently studying how EphB activity blocks tumor malignization as well as the mechanism of EphB down-regulation in advanced CRC.


Early Colorectal Cancer lesions (dashed line) showing nuclear beta-catenin accumulation and expression of EphB2

3) The colonization of the liver by CRC cells
Liver metastasis is the main cause of death by colorectal cancer, yet the molecular mechanisms responsible for liver colonization by colorectal cancer cells remain largely unknown. We aim to identify the genes required by CRC cells to colonize the liver, with the focus on developing new therapeutic approaches to tackle the spread of CRC.

4) Molecular mechanisms that govern stem cell specification in normal epithelium and in CRC initiation
The intestinal epithelium is a prime example of cell renewal in adult tissues. The proliferative compartment of the intestinal epithelium is structured in millions of invaginations known as crypts of Lieberkühn. Each of these structures is a developmental unit that contributes to the complete renewal of the epithelium every few days throughout adulthood. Cell renewal in the intestinal epithelium is maintained by a small group of intestinal stem cells that reside at the bottom of each crypt. These stem cells slowly but continuously duplicate, giving rise to a transient population of progenitor cells that rapidly divide whilst migrating towards the intestinal lumen. In the mid-crypt region these cells stop dividing and differentiate. After 3-5 days, they are shed to the lumen and replaced by fresh descendants from the bottom of the crypts. Wnt signals are required for the maintenance of stem cells but also for the initiation of CRC. We study the similarities and differences in the molecular mechanisms responsible for the maintenance of stem cells and mutant stem cells in response to Wnt signals through the generation of animal models that mimic the initiation of the disease. These studies aim to identify molecular targets that may be used during early stages of the disease, and, in particular, in patients suffering from familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).

5) Contribution of mutations in other signalling pathways to CRC progression
As CRC progresses, mutant cells accumulate alterations in other signalling pathways that modulate the initial progenitor phenotype imposed by mutations in Wnt signalling. Our research currently focuses on the contribution of TGF beta signalling to carcinogenesis through a multidisciplinary approach that includes gene expression profiling of tumour samples and the use of cell culture models and animal models in which TGF beta signalling is selectively induced or abolished in the intestinal tract.

Whissell G, Montagni E, Martinelli P, Hernando-Momblona X, Sevillano M, Jung P, Cortina C, Calon A, Abuli A, Castells A, Castellvi-Bel S, Nacht AS, Sancho E, Stephan-Otto Attolini C, Vicent GP, Real FX and Batlle E.
Nat Cell Biol, 16 (7), 695-707 (2014)
Urosevic J, Garcia-Albéniz X, Planet E, Real S, Céspedes MV, Guiu M, Fernandez E, Bellmunt A, Gawrzak S, Pavlovic M, Mangues R, Dolado I, Barriga FM, Nadal C, Kemeny N, Batlle E, Nebreda AR and Gomis RR.
Nat Cell Biol, 16 (7), 685-94 (2014)
Torres AG, Batlle E and Ribas de Pouplana L.
Trends Mol Med, (2014)
Calon A, Espinet E, Palomo-Ponce S, Tauriello DV, Iglesias M, Céspedes MV, Sevillano M, Nadal C, Jung P, Zhang XH, Byrom D, Riera A, Rossell D, Mangues R, Massagué J, Sancho E and Batlle E.
Cancer Cell, 22 (5), 571-84 (2012)
Campbell K, Whissell G, Franch-Marro X, Batlle E and Casanova J.
Dev Cell, 21 (6), 1051-61 (2011)
Jung P, Sato T, Merlos-Suárez A, Barriga FM, Iglesias M, Rossell D, Auer H, Gallardo M, Blasco MA, Sancho E, Clevers H and Batlle E.
Nat Med, 17 (10), 1225-7 (2011)
Solanas G, Cortina C, Sevillano M and Batlle E.
Nat Cell Biol, 13 (9), 1100-7 (2011)
Merlos-Suárez A, Barriga FM, Jung P, Iglesias M, Céspedes MV, Rossell D, Sevillano M, Hernando-Momblona X, da Silva-Diz V, Muñoz P, Clevers H, Sancho E, Mangues R and Batlle E.
Cell Stem Cell, 8 (5), 511-24 (2011)


Group news & mentions

25 Jan 2015

El tema central de la revista Magazine versa sobre el finançament de la ciència a Espanya.

21 Oct 2014

Entrevista al coordinador del programa d'Oncologia de l'IRB Barcelona i investigador ICREA, Eduard Batlle, sobre les línies d'investigació del Laboratario de Càncer Colorectal.

22 Sep 2014

El Consell Europeu de Recerca (ERC en les seves sigles en anglès) ha fet públiques avui les ajudes “Proof of Concept” (Prova de Concepte

19 Sep 2014

Reportatge al  web de noticíes científiques Excelenciencia sobre les iniciatives per apropar a la societat la recerca dels centres amb l

Upcoming events

30 Jan

Speaker: Dr. David Torrents, ICREA Research Professor. Joint BSC-CRG-IRB Research Program in Computational Biology Barcelona Supercomputing Centre


02 Feb

Biomedical professionals require skills to communicate effectively, both when writing and when presenting their research orally. However, many do not receive specific training for this purpose.

English is the language used by the international scientific community. Although Spanish biomedical professionals channel great efforts into learning English, they often lack the specialized knowledge of the language required to communicate their science clearly.

This training seminar aims to help students to improve their scientific English. The course introduces some basic concepts underlying the oral and written communication of science and gives participants the opportunity to put theory into practice in a relaxed open discussion and feedback session. Finally, it introduces tools and tips for the student once the course has finished.

04 Feb

Speaker: Marie Bijlmakers, King's College London, UK



This group receives financial support from the following sources:

  • Ministerio de Educación y Ciencia (Spanish Ministry of Science and Education)
  • European Commission (FP6)
  • Generalitat de Catalunya (DURSI) (Government of Catalonia) 
  • SuppresSTEM consortium