Neutrophils (shown in brown) a type of immune cells helping breast cancer cells to grow in the lung.

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The tumour microenvironment or niche is the vital the non-cancerous cells compartment of the tumour structure. Thus, targeting its tissue-derived cellular components represents a promising avenue to better therapeutic interventions. However, knowledge about the non-cancer cells taking part of the tumour niche during early cancer development and later progression is lagging behind due the difficulty of analysing and following early tissue changes in the surrounding of cancer cells in vivo.

Each cell, constituting tissues of each organ, has a very specific task; this ensures the entire body functions altogether. Cancer arises when a cell of a certain tissue loses its specialised function, stops contributing to organ activity and importantly starts breaking the rules limiting its growth within the tissue.

Metastatic cancer cell

A cancer-initiating cell restarts the embryonic program of 'construction', activates extensive proliferation and builds new interactions with the surrounding healthy cells of the tissue influencing their behaviour.

Consequently the normal cells of a tissue surrounding tumourigenic cells start building a stromal structure and a blood vessels network to support and become part of the tumour growth. If the tumourigenic cells are not cleared early by the immune system, they lead to an abnormal mass that continues to evolve and 'corrupt' the normal host cells locally as well as systemically at distal sites.

The lab studies the strategies adopted by cancer cells to establish these crucial interactions with their microenvironment (local tissue cells or inflammatory cells) during the process of tumour initiation as well as metastatic spreading. We also aim to understand the systemic perturbations imposed by cancer growth on the inflammatory compartment, which ultimately support the spreading of the disease. Our final aim is to find approaches to interfere with the tumour-host crosstalk, a first step toward novel, more effective anti-cancer therapies.

Figure 1: Metastatic cancer cell (green) "changing" the adjacent cells of the invading tissue (red) when seeding in the lung. Nuclei of all cells are shown in blue. (Click to view larger image)