“Deconstructing colon cancer” – Meet Our Scientists: Eduard Batlle

“Deconstructing colon cancer” – Meet Our Scientists: Eduard Batlle


The intestinal epithelium is the organ in our body that regenerates with the highest renewal rate. Cells are born and die within less than a week and this continuous renewal happens to the presence of a number of stem cells that divide continuously and provide new cells to this tissue. Over the past few years we understood that colorectal cancer contain stem cells, tumour stem cells, and that the growth of these tumours over long term depend on that particular population of stem cells that resemble the normal stem cells of the intestinal tube. The aim of the laboratory is to understand the biology of these cancer stem cells, to find ways to track them in tumours to understand what are their roles during disease progression, during resistance to therapy and how we can therapeutically target these cells so that we can provide new cures to patients with advanced diseases. Lately in the laboratory we have been interested in the phenomenon of metastasis, how colorectal cancers spread to other organs. Metastasis happens because of a small number of cells are capable of regenerating the disease in a different place and these are very difficult to cure. What we have learned about this process, about metastasis, is that it is largely cell non autonomous, which means that the cancer cells by themselves can not make it, can not generate metastasis efficiently but rather these cells have to learn to talk, to communicate, with the cells of the body to corrupt them, to teach them how they can help them, help the cancer cells, to regenerate the disease in a foreign organ. By understanding the precise communication between the different cell types of the tumour we can envision new ways to treat and to diagnose colorectal cancer patients. In the laboratory what we like the most is try to pursue new frontiers. And this is obviously a very challenging task. It not only involves having good ideas but also having very good resources such as those here at IRB, having the possibility of attracting excellent people but also is an exercise of pragmatism. We have hundreds of ideas, many possibilities, but we necessarily need to focus and make an exercise of addressing those that are only possible. I brought a painting from one of our favourite painters, Enric Solanilla. We have it at home. It is a beech tree forest and it symbolizes the intrinsic beauty of biology but also the fact that many times scientists get lost and very often we get lost in a forest of preconceived ideas that prevent us from advancing and from finding the right ways.

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