Frederic Lluis, Investigador principal en KU Leuven.
The main goal of the Professor LLuis team is to investigate how stem cells communicate with surrounding cellular and non-cellular elements to preserve and form healthy tissues structures.
In a multicellular organism, cells do not live in isolation, but rather work as a team for the correct development and organization of the body. Tissue homeostasis and cellular function depend on receiving and processing the proper information from the outside environment, the own tissue niche or from other cells. Disruption or deregulation of intercellular communication often leads to serious problems such as embryonic lethality, developmental malformations and grave illnesses such as cancer. Among different kinds of cell communication, cell signaling is one of the best communication systems.
In our laboratory we are interested in elucidating how signaling pathways are able to precisely regulate stem cell functions. Specifically, we use embryonic stem cells (ESC) as a tool to study the process of early development and cellular differentiation programs. ESC can contribute to any of the three germ layers during development (ectoderm, mesoderm and endoderm) and are therefore a limitless supply of specific cell-types for basic research and transplantation therapies for many ailments.
At present, we aim to increase our knowledge of how Wnt/β-catenin signaling affects tissue stem cell behavior. We have already demonstrated that modulation of canonical Wnt pathway and specifically the family of TCF/LEF factors (the transcription factors downstream of Wnt/-catenin pathway) is able to regulate a plethora of embryonic stem cell functions such as: pluripotency maintenance, stem cell self-renewal, proliferation and cell cycle and importantly increase the efficiency of somatic cell reprogramming (either by cell-cell fusion or by overexpression of stem cell transcription factors). Now our research focuses in the role of the Wnt pathway in the regulation of both cellular differentiation and cell cycle of ESC. Lastly, we have a long-standing interest in obtaining genomically stable pluripotent stem cells through modulation of specific signaling pathways which could be safely used in cell replacement or regenerative therapies.
Furthermore, giving the important link between deregulated embryonic pathways and cancer, we aim to dissect the molecular events downstream of Wnt activation in specific cancer cellular contexts in order to limit selectively the Wnt-dependent effects on cancer cell proliferation without affecting healthy stem cell self-renewal.
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