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Centre for Cancer Biomarkers CCBIO

Junior associate investigators

Daniela Elena Costea

Professor Daniela Elena Costea and her team are focusing on characterizing the interactions between epithelial (stem) cells and their microenvironment in normal conditions and during carcinogenesis.

The group’s research interest stems from their early findings showing that the tight control exerted by mesenchyme on epithelial differentiation and cell death is gradually lost during neoplastic progression (Costea et al, J Invest Dermatol, 2003 & Differentiation, 2005) and changes from a restrictive to a dedifferentiating and invasive stimulating factor (Costea et al, Am J Pathol, 2006).

The group is proposing the concept of cancer as a deregulation of the developmental and homeostatic processes that govern how cells organize into tissues and organs. This histogenetic perspective implies that (1) both epithelium and the microenvironment co-evolve during carcinogenesis, (2) both provide biomarkers for prediction of aggressive tumor behavior, (3) epithelial –microenvironment interactions are essential to the carcinogenic process, and (4), their disruption can be therapeutically used to change the natural course of cancer. The group’s recent and current studies support this view by demonstrating that activated tumor stroma is a prerequisite for carcinoma invasion and that the vicious epithelial –microenvironment interactions in carcinomas can be disrupted by targeting either the stromal or the epithelial compartment by use of nanoparticles (Costea et al, Cancer Res. 2013 & Suliman, Biomaterials 2016).

For being able to perform pertinent studies on cell-to-cell interactions, the group has developed human skin and mucosal (oral, tonsillar, bladder and cervical) 3D organotypic in vitro model systems as well as a humanized, microenvironmentally-induced bioluminescence mouse model of cancer (Suliman, Nead and Neck 2016). In addition to basic research, the group is working on translational research projects on biomarkers in head and neck, skin, kidney and bladder cancer, and use of stem cells and nanoparticles for targeting the carcinogenesis process.

The group is partner in several EU and Eurasia research projects and has a wide research network including research groups from Europe, Asia, Australia, Brazil and the US.