Thomas F. Meyer - Molecular Biology

Thomas F. Meyer - Molecular Biology

The Role of Bacterial Infections in Human Carcinogenesis

The human mucosa is the major crossing point for molecular interaction between our body and the environment. This is where most pathogens initiate their infections and where our defense system is challenged to rapidly counteract any approaching assaults. Repeated or persistent 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, inflammation and cell proliferation. 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

(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.

(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.


Gut colonization by colibactin-producing bacteria is associated with colorectal cancer. Recent work by Prof. Thomas Meyer and others has uncovered its footprint in human cancer genomes. While this unique mutational signature is indicative of colibactin’s role in cancer causality, additional mechanisms appear to account for full-blown cell transformation. In a new article published in Cancer Cell, Hilmar Berger and Thomas F. Meyer portray their theory of how a failure of adequately resolving DNA damage causes genomic aberrations and chromosomal instability. In turn, these underpinnings of DNA damage constitute the main starting point for colibactin-driven cancer. more
Max Planck researchers and their collaborators reveal transformation of colon organoids in vitro more
Research team led by MPIIB Emeritus Director Thomas F. Meyer discovers key mechanism influencing cervical cancer onset more
Scientists identify mutations in the genome caused by the intestinal bacterium Escherichia coli more
Berlin researchers are using organ-like cell cultures to investigate compounds to combat the new virus more
A cancer drug may inhibit the replication of the SARS-CoV-2 virus more
Thomas F. Meyer, Director at the Max Planck Institute for Infection Biology, receives an Advanced Grant for his project "Metaplasia as an adaptive response to chronic microbial infections" on the role of bacterial infections in the development of human cancer. more
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