Professor Christopher Heeschen

Professor Christopher Heeschen

MD, PhD
Centre: Centre for Stem Cells in Cancer & Ageing
Centre Lead, Centre for Stem Cells in Cancer & Ageing
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QMUL Directory

Stem Cells & Cancer Group

We are developing novel approaches that target cancer stem cells and have potential to finally improve long-term outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer.

Determining how cancer stem cells actually regulate self-renewal and in vivo tumourigenesis will significantly advance our understanding of cancer stem cell biology. This represents an essential step towards the development of strategies for eliminating cancer stem cells as a prerequisite for improving long-term therapeutic response in pancreatic cancer patients.

 

Research Details

Tumours are heterogeneous, but not only because of diverse subclones that arise during tumour development, but also because they are driven by functional heterogeneity within each subclone. So-called cancer stem cells (CSCs) are responsible for intraclonal heterogeneity.

We and others have provided conclusive evidence down to the single cell that they represent the root of the disease by giving rise to all differentiated progenies within each cancer subclone. These cells are also seeding metastases from primary tumour dissemination and represent an important cause of disease relapse following treatment.

Building on these findings and newly developed technologies in our lab, we are now systematically determining which common key regulators control the process of stemness in pancreatic cancer. Our studies are directly relevant to improving therapy in pancreatic cancer and will provide vital and novel information on how to target cancer stem cells for preventing relapse.

The ultimate goal of our research relies on the identification of new multimodal treatment regimens that generate rapid and significant impact on pancreatic cancer progression (i.e. doubling or greater in the median survival for Stage IV pancreatic cancer patients) based on the additional targeting of the highly tumourigenic CSC compartment.

In order to advance our understanding of the regulatory machinery of cancer stem cells, we are running a combined basic and translation research programme, which synergistically promotes studies on the biology of mouse and human cancer stem cells, including their in vivo microenvironment.

First, we are aiming for a comprehensive understanding of the cellular origin of pancreatic cancer stem cells, including their relation to different environmental conditions and how this alters the function of the arising cancer stem cells.

Secondly, we are studying their consecutive genetic and epigenetic evolution during tumour progression, including acquisition of invasive and metastatic phenotypes. In particular, research in our group focuses on:

  1. The identification of novel biomarkers for CSCs;
  2. Tracking, isolation and characterisation of circulating CSCs;
  3. In vivo studies of CSC biology in mouse models;
  4. The development of novel CSC-targeting therapies;
  5. The generation of nanoparticles for targeted drug delivery; and
  6. The clinical translation of novel treatment modalities.

Also in this group:

  • Joanne Monger (Research Assistant)
  • Julfa Begum (Research Technician)

Profile

I was born in 1966 in Kiel (Germany) and obtained my MD in 1997 at the Free University of Berlin (Germany). My clinical training in Internal Medicine ran from 1996 – 2004 at the University of Hamburg and the University of Frankfurt. During this time, I spent 2.5 years at the Falk Cardiovascular Research Center at Stanford University (USA) where I worked on basic mechanisms of angiogenesis and vasculogenic stem cells and subsequently obtained my PhD in 2001.

I became an independent investigator in 2004 as Professor of Experimental Oncology and Transplantation and Head of the Department Experimental at Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich (Germany). In 2008 I moved to the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO) as a founding member of the Clinical Research Programme.

Since October 2013, I am the lead of the new Centre for Stem Cells in Cancer & Ageing at Barts Cancer Institute. I have published more than 100 articles in prestigious scientific journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine, Nature Medicine, The Lancet, Cancer Cell, Cell Stem Cell, the Journal of Experimental Medicine, and PNAS, among others. I have made major original contributions to the field of stem and vascular cell biology that have advanced our understanding of the basic processes of stem cell function and trafficking. My research has been recognised through numerous international awards and has earned an ERC Advanced Investigator Grant for pancreatic cancer research.

Funding

2016-2018: ‘’Reprogramming of Transcriptional Circuitry to Control Pancreatic Cancer’’ - SU2C CRUK Lustgarten Pancreatic Cancer Dream Team Award.

2015-2016: ‘’Development of liquid biopsy methods for patients with pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma’’ - Pancreatic Cancer UK.

2013-2018: “Integrative Analysis of Gene Functions in Cellular and Animal Models of Pancreatic Cancer (CAM-PaC)” - FP7-HEALTH-2012 SME-targeted Collaborative Project, "Functional validation in animal and cellular modals of genetic determinants of diseases and ageing processes".

Key Publications

MYC/PGC-1α Balance Determines the Metabolic Phenotype and Plasticity of Pancreatic Cancer Stem Cells. Sancho P, Burgos-Ramos E, Tavera A, Bou Kheir T, Jagust P, Schoenhals M, Barneda D, Sellers K, Campos-Olivas R, Graña O, Viera CR, Yuneva M, Sainz B Jr,Heeschen C.Cell Metab. 2015 Oct 6;22(4):590-605. doi: 10.1016/j.cmet.2015.08.015. Epub 2015 Sep 10. PMID:26365176

The miR-17-92 cluster counteracts quiescence and chemoresistance in a distinct subpopulation of pancreatic cancer stem cells. Cioffi M, Trabulo SM, Sanchez-Ripoll Y, Miranda-Lorenzo I, Lonardo E, Dorado J, Reis Vieira C, Ramirez JC, Hidalgo M, Aicher A, Hahn S, Sainz B Jr,Heeschen C.Gut. 2015 Dec;64(12):1936-48. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2014-308470. Epub 2015 Apr 17. PMID:25887381.

Microenvironmental hCAP-18/LL-37 promotes pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma by activating its cancer stem cell compartment. Sainz B Jr, Alcala S, Garcia E, Sanchez-Ripoll Y, Azevedo MM, Cioffi M, Tatari M, Miranda-Lorenzo I, Hidalgo M, Gomez-Lopez G, Cañamero M, Erkan M, Kleeff J, García-Silva S, Sancho P, Hermann PC,Heeschen C.Gut. 2015 Dec;64(12):1921-35. doi: 10.1136/gutjnl-2014-308935. Epub 2015 Apr 3. PMID:25841238.

Intracellular autofluorescence: a biomarker for epithelial cancer stem cells. Miranda-Lorenzo I, Dorado J, Lonardo E, Alcala S, Serrano AG, Clausell-Tormos J, Cioffi M, Megias D, Zagorac S, Balic A, Hidalgo M, Erkan M, Kleeff J, Scarpa A, Sainz B Jr,Heeschen C.Nat Methods. 2014 Nov;11(11):1161-9. doi: 10.1038/nmeth.3112. Epub 2014 Sep 28. PMID:25262208.

 


Further Publications

For additional publications, click here


We are developing novel approaches that target cancer stem cells and have potential to finally improve long-term outcomes for patients with pancreatic cancer.

Determining how cancer stem cells actually regulate self-renewal and in vivo tumourigenesis will significantly advance our understanding of cancer stem cell biology. This represents an essential step towards the development of strategies for eliminating cancer stem cells as a prerequisite for improving long-term therapeutic response in pancreatic cancer patients.

 

News

  • September 2015: Cell Metabolism: diabetes drug metformin could be used to treat pancreatic cancer
  • August 2015: Cell Reports: microRNA link to obesity discovered
  • November 2014: Co-application for PCRF grant success; c-Met in pancreatic cancer
  • September 2014: PCUK grant awarded for pancreatic cancer screening project
  • September 2014: New Centre launched!

Group members

  • Dr Marianthi Tatari - Postdoctoral Research Assistant
  • Dr Patricia Sancho - Lecturer
  • Dr Sara Trabulo - Postdoctoral Research Assistant
  • Dr Minghsin Yang - PhD Student
  • Dr Alexandra Aicher - Non-Clinical Senior Lecturer
  • Ms Petra Jagust - PhD Student
  • Mr Ahmet Imrali - Research Technician
  • Ms Sladjana Zagorac - PhD Student
  • Ms Marina Roy Luzárraga - PhD Student
  • Dr David Barneda - Postdoctoral Research Assistant
  • Dr Tony Bou Kheir - Postdoctoral Research Assistant
  • Dr Shanthini Crusz - Clinical Research Fellow
  • Dr Deepak Raj - Postdoctoral Research Assistant
  • Mrs Michaela Mahon - Advanced Technician
  • September 2015:Cell Metabolism: diabetes drug metformin could be used to treat pancreatic cancer
  • August 2015:Cell Reports: microRNA link to obesity discovered
  • November 2014: Co-application forPCRF grantsuccess; c-Met in pancreatic cancer
  • September 2014:PCUK grantawarded for pancreatic cancer screening project
  • September 2014: New Centrelaunched!

See other researchers working on:

Cancer and Ageing Metabolism Pancreas Stem Cells
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