Molecular Biology

Molecular Biology

Research Focus:

The Role of Bacterial Infections in Human Carcinogenesis

The human mucosa constitutes the major crossing point of our molecular interaction with the environment. This is where most pathogens initiate their infections and where our defense system is challenged to rapidly counteract any approaching assaults. Repeated onslaughts of this kind, however, tend to cause permanent damage to our epithelium and, not surprisingly, the mucosal epithelium is the site most prone to carcinogenesis, a consequence of enhanced mutagenesis. Several clear links have been noted between chronic bacterial infections and carcinogenesis; however, the underlying mechanisms of this likely fatal relationship are still sparsely understood. Exploring these mechanisms promises to pave the way towards better prevention and treatment of the disease

Our researchers pursue sophisticated approaches to illuminate the relationship between infection and cancer:

(1) Carcinogenic microbes

The gastric pathogen Helicobacter pylori is the paradigm of a cancer-inducing bacterium. Understanding the mechanisms behind this link will help to define the principles of an infection-cancer connection.

(2) Human organoids and mucosoids

The use of human primary cell culture models is crucial for authentic investigations of cancer emergence. We have pioneered the use of innovative organoid and mucosoid models, providing invaluable avenues of approach.

(3) Functional genomics of cancer initiation

Breakthrough technologies, such as RNA interference and CRISPR/Cas9, are extensively used in our work to decipher beneficial and potentially deleterious gene functions and genetic defects.

(4) Origin of cancer initiating cells

Sophisticated genetic lineage tracing tools help to illuminate the earliest events in cancer initiation and the various stages of carcinogenesis.

(5) Analysing human cancer progression

In collaboration with clinical centers we analyze human specimens guiding us in our understanding of the various stages of cancer initiation and progression as well as the role of infectious agents. <more>

(6) Signatures of infection in the cancer genome

Identifying genetic signatures that bacterial pathogens might leave behind in human cells might provide genuine clues on the causality between infections and cancer emergence.