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Developmental, Stem Cell and Cancer Biology

Group leader Dr Renée van Amerongen
Developmental, Stem Cell and Cancer Biology

Development of a multicellular animal requires tight control of cell proliferation, differentiation and polarized cell movements to ensure the correct assembly of cells into complex tissues. How are such complex tissues built and maintained? This is the key question we address in our research, with a focus on the role and regulation of Wnt-signal transduction in mammary gland development and breast cancer.

The same molecular mechanisms that normally guide the biological processes in the developing embryo, maintain tissue homeostasis in the adult. The latter requires the activity of dedicated stem cells, with the capacity to both self-renew and differentiate. Stem cell activity is tightly controlled by signals from the local microenvironment to ensure a proper balance between proliferation and differentiation. Disruption of this balance is the underlying cause of degenerative diseases, tumor formation and, ultimately, aging. 

Our research focuses on the mammary gland, which is a tissue with dynamic developmental properties. We are specifically interested in understanding and manipulating the behaviour and control of Wnt-responsive stem cells in normal development and breast cancer. For this, we use a combination of in vitro and in vivo approaches, including lineage tracing analyses, primary three-dimensional organoid cultures and functional imaging of Wnt-signal transduction.