OncologyStem cells and cancer

Stem cells and cancer
<p>Salvador Aznar-Benitah</p>
Group Leader

ICREA Research Professor, ERC Starting Grant

+34 93 40 34021

Adult stem cells ensure maintenance of the tissue and integrity in response to damage. They self-renew, are multipotential, and respond to and repair injuries. The skin and other stratified epithelia as model tissues display a high turnover rate, and contain well-defined populations of adult stem cells (SCs). A key feature of SCs is that they localize to specialized niches, where they remain unspecified but sense the needs of the tissue. Constant tissue replenishment drives a SCs to proliferate, the daughter cells to egress the niche, propagate, and terminally differentiate. Niche adherence, dormancy, activation, and exit, must be finely regulated processes, since loss of this tight control is causative of aging, and the onset and progression of squamous cell carcinomas.

Our global aim is to characterize the molecular pathways that regulate the behaviour of normal stem cells during homeostasis, and how they become deregulated during carcinogenesis and ageing.

stem cells

Epidermal stem cells from mouse tail skin visualized by wholemount 3D immunostaining: Left panel shows epidermal stem cells marked with BrDU (Label Retaining Cells); Middle and right panels Show expression of keratin-15 and high expression of integrin alpha6, respectively.

We are interested in studying the following questions:

  • What intrinsic (cell autonomous) mechanisms regulate adult stem cell function, and how are they deregulated during ageing and cancer?
  • How do adult stem cells communicate with their local environment (i.e. niche) and how is the system coordinated to dictate stem cell function?
  • What systemic cues communicate with adult stem cells and how do distant adult stem cells either from the same tissue or from different tissues coordinate their function at the level of the whole organism?
  • How does deregulation of pathways that control stem cell behaviour contribute to the maintenance and invasive progression of skin and oral squamous cell carcinomas (SCC)? Is there cancer stem cell heterogeneity in human SCC? If so, what is its significance?

We use a combination of conditional mouse models, primary cell culture (human and mouse), live microscopy, highthroughput genomics and proteomics approaches, and basic molecular biology.

Pascual G, Avgustinova A, Mejetta S, Martín M, Castellanos A, Attolini CS, Berenguer A, Prats N, Toll A, Hueto JA, Bescós C, Di Croce L and Benitah SA.
Nature, (2016)
Janich P, Toufighi K, Solanas G, Luis NM, Minkwitz S, Serrano L, Lehner B and Benitah SA.
Cell Stem Cell, 13 (6), 745-53 (2013)
Luis N, Morey L, Di Croce L, Benitah SA
Cell Stem Cell, 1 (11), 16-21 (2012)

This group is financially supported by the following:

  • Ministerio de Economía y Competitividad (MINECO)
  • European Commission (EC), Fondo Europeo de Desarrollo Regional (FEDER), "Una manera de hacer Europa"


Group news & mentions

20 Jan 2017

“The Scientist” reports on a study headed by ICREA researcher Salvador Aznar Benitah, from the Stem Cells and Cancer Lab at IRB Barcelona, and whose first author is Gloria Pascual. In the study, pu

5 Jan 2017

“Gaceta Médica” has published an article on the study by ICREA researcher Salvador Aznar Benitah, head of the Stem Cells and Cancer Lab at IRB Barcelona.

4 Jan 2017

IRB Barcelona Group Leader and ICREA researcher, Salvador Aznar Benitah was on “Catalunya Ràdio” talking about his recent research on metastasis

1 Jan 2017

“Eldiario.es” publishes an article about palm oil and Christmas food. The article includes Salvador Aznar Benitah’s opinion and information about what is palm oil used for in the food industry.

Upcoming events

25 Jan
Aula Fèlix Serratosa, Parc Científic de Barcelona
Teresa Juan Blanco, IRB Barcelona
25 Jan
Aula Fèlix Serratosa, Parc Científic de Barcelona
Martine Simonelig, Institut de Genetique Humaine, Montpellier
27 Jan
Fèlix Serratosa, Parc Científic de Barcelona
Francisco Real, MD, Ph.D. Epithelial Carcinogenesis Group, Centro Nacional de Investigaciones Oncológicas (CNIO) Madrid (Spain)