Our mission

The SAINZlab is interested in understanding the role of cancer stem cells (CSCs) in pancreatic cancer. CSCs, also known as tumor-initiating cells or tumor-propagating cells, constitute a biologically unique subset of stem-like cells within the bulk tumor cell population. These cells are believed to be important in metastasis and chemoresistance, and they are hypothesized to be key drivers of the multistep process of oncogenesis, giving rise to the clonogenic core of tumor tissues. We study CSCs in the context of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma (PDAC), currently the 4th leading cause of cancer related deaths in developed countries.

Our mission is to understand these cells with the ultimate goal of eliminating them as a means of treating patients with PDAC.



Highlighted Research Projects

CSCs represent the root of the tumor, giving rise to all of the other tumor cells and driving intratumor heterogeneity. This subpopulation of cells have been shown to be exclusively tumorigenic, highly metastatic and chemoresistant. Thus, from a clinical perspective, only elimination of the CSC will ensure tumor eradication.

CSCs can be identified and isolated via cell surface or internal markers that are over-expressed in and/or on these cells. We have identified and continue to discover new CSC markers that enable us to quantify the number of CSCs in patient biopsies as well as separate these cells away from the the bulk tumor population in order to interrogate them on a single-cell level.

At the ”omic” level, CSCs are different than their non-CSC counterparts. These differences are believed to be epigenetically driven as well as a consequence of post translational modifications. We have dissected CSCs and discovered what makes them tick, and learned how to genetically and pharmacologically target these weaknesses.

Via collaborations with national and international hospitals, we are creating one of the largest Biobanks of pancreatic patient-derived xenografts (PDXs) in Spain. PDXs are generated by implanting resected tumor pieces into immune compromised mice. The resulting “avatar” mice can serve as pre-clinical models to assess the effect of CSC inhibitors on PDAC tumor formation.

Cancer Stem Cells (CSCs)

CSCs represent the root of the tumor, giving rise to all of the other tumor cells and driving intratumor heterogeneity. This subpopulation of cells have been shown to be exclusively tumorigenic, highly metastatic and chemoresistant. Thus, from a clinical perspective, only elimination of the CSC will ensure tumor eradication.

CSC biomarkers

CSCs can be identified and isolated via cell surface or internal markers that are over-expressed in and/or on these cells. We have identified and continue to discover new CSC markers that enable us to quantify the number of CSCs in patient biopsies as well as separate these cells away from the the bulk tumor population in order to interrogate them on a single-cell level.

The Achilles’ heel of CSCs

At the ”omic” level, CSCs are different than their non-CSC counterparts. These differences are believed to be epigenetically driven as well as a consequence of post translational modifications. We have dissected CSCs and discovered what makes them tick, and learned how to genetically and pharmacologically target these weaknesses.

Patient-derived xenografts

Via collaborations with national and international hospitals, we are creating one of the largest Biobanks of pancreatic patient-derived xenografts (PDXs) in Spain. PDXs are generated by implanting resected tumor pieces into immune compromised mice. The resulting “avatar” mice can serve as pre-clinical models to assess the effect of CSC inhibitors on PDAC tumor formation.

Featured publication

Exploiting oxidative phosphorylation to promote the stem and immunoevasive properties of pancreatic cancer stem cells