Professor Akslen is a specialist in surgical pathology and is directing the Tumor Biology Research Group at the Department of Clinical Medicine (University of Bergen). Since 2013, he is also the director of Centre for Cancer Biomarkers CCBIO. Akslen´s team, and now CCBIO, are engaged in translational cancer research.
The group has a strong focus on molecular biomarkers for improved classification and grading of malignant tumors, as a better guide for targeted and precise treatment. The team is currently focusing on two main programs. Firstly, the studies of the tumor microenvironment, especially tumor-vascular interactions and angiogenesis markers. Secondly, genetic and molecular markers of aggressive tumors, with focus on tumor cell proliferation and cell cycle regulation.
The Akslen group has initiated projects on various cancers, such as breast cancer, malignant melanoma, and prostate cancer. Studies of human tumor samples (primary and metastatic lesions) are combined with experimental cell and animal models to improve translation. Biobanks with fresh and paraffin embedded tumor tissue with detailed clinical annotations are applied in these projects. The team has extensive national and international collaboration.
The team has reported several novel angiogenesis biomarkers which provide better grading of malignant tumors and might prove important for targeted treatment and response prediction. In breast cancer, angiogenesis is particularly increased in the aggressive basal-like subtype, and the mechanism behind this finding is being studied. Also, the group is currently exploring predictive biomarkers in trials of metastatic melanoma, renal cancer, and breast cancer. Ongoing studies have shown that vascular invasion by tumor cells is a strong predictor of aggressive tumors. By gene expression analysis, signatures predicting vascular proliferation and vascular invasion have been identified and validated, also suggesting novel candidates for targeted therapy and prediction of treatment response.
Spring 2016 Interview
Lars A. Akslen is an award-winning specialist in surgical pathology and has over the years initiated many research projects - with a focus on breast cancer, malignant melanoma and prostate cancer. He might study tiny biomarkers in the microscope, but the translation to new and better cancer medicine is of great importance. Akslen knows how to keep busy. He is not only the director of CCBIO, he also directs the Tumor Biology Research Group at the Department of Clinical Medicine at UIB.
What is a biomarker and how can your findings be put to use for cancer patients?
"According to the NCI definition, a biomarker is a biological molecule found in blood, other body fluids, or tissues that is a sign of a normal or abnormal process, or of a condition or disease; a biomarker may be used to see how well the body responds to a treatment for a disease or condition. In my language, a cancer biomarker (or a biomarker signature) is the biological fingerprint or barcode of a patient´s cancer, telling us how aggressive it is, how it can be treated, and showing that each cancer is different. We are now starting to use biomarkers in molecular classification and grading of cancers, paving the way for precise therapy."
Can you tell us about your main research projects of 2015?
"We have realized that malignant tumors not only consist of tumor cells, but they are also dependent on the supporting microenvironment, such as the tumor circulation, to grow and spread. Improved markers of tumor angiogenesis have been identified, and we have discovered novel angiogenesis drivers in aggressive breast cancers. During the last years, we have also been looking at how quantification of tumor cell proliferation may assist in better classification of breast cancer."
In your work, you seem to follow the whole process from basic research to new and improved cancer therapies?
"For me, the chain-of-evidence from model studies to mapping of patient tumor tissues and detection of new targets and treatment modalities is a closed circle and an open field at the same time."
What are your goals when it comes to scientific findings?
"The ultimate goal is to discover novel and unexpected features of malignant tumors that can eventually be applied in practical medicine."
Find Akslens's PubMed publication list here.