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Projects. Life and Matter Sciences

Studies of tumorigenesis in Drosophila: possible clinical implications

Lead Researcher:
Ginés Morata Pérez

Research Centre:
Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa. CSIC-UAM.


Ginés Morata PérezThe fundamental aim of this project is to use the vinegar fly Drosophila to study the initial processes in tumour formation, as these are not normally accessible for experimental analysis in mammals. Clones of oncogenic cells will be generated for this in the imaginal discs of Drosophila. These cells will be mutant for genes that are also associated with human tumours.

Special attention will be paid to the role of cell competition, a mechanism which is conserved in insects and mammals that functions as a tumour suppressor due to its capacity to induce apoptosis in tumour cells by activation of the Jun-N-terminal Kinase (JNK) signalling pathway. Nevertheless, recent studies have shown that the anti-tumoral function of cellular competition /JNK may be reversed if the initial group of tumour cells achieves a certain size. Under these circumstances the proliferative signals generated by JNK activity in apoptotic cells stimulate the growth of the tumour. This suggests that pro-apoptotic treatments used in cancer patients may be counter-productive.

The first aim of the proposed experiments is to study the phenomenon of apoptosis in general as a tumoral stimulant under a variety of oncogenic conditions. Secondly, as the pro-apoptotic functions of cellular competition are mediated by the JNK pathway, experiments will have the objective of analysing the conditions under which it behaves as an inhibitor or stimulator of tumoral progression. Finally, we will try to identify the target genes of the JNK pathway involved in the process.

Ginés Morata Pérez

He is currently Research Professor in the Centro de Biología Molecular del Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas y de la Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Dr. Morata is a specialist in Developmental Biology, a scientific discipline in which he has worked for more than 40 years. He has been involved in several major discoveries: the discovery of the compartments in Drosophila, the phenomenon of cellular competition, the role of the engrailed gene in the formation of compartments, the demonstration of the structure of the bithorax complex, the phenomenon of the phenotypical suppression of the Hox genes, the genetic strategy of development of the appendices and most recently the discovery of proliferative signalling by apoptotic cells and its involvement in tumoral development.

To date he has published 130 research papers in international scientific journals, including the most prestigious ones such as Nature, Science, Cell, PNAS, etc. He belongs or has belonged to the Editorial Boards of several of the scientific journals within his speciality. He has been invited to speak about his scientific work in a great many universities and scientific institutions around the world, as well as in numerous international scientific congresses. He has directed 15 doctoral theses.

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