Experimental oncology

Preclinical models of cancer


Group Leader

Rosa Bernardi


Armenise harvard

This unit is interested in studying the processes underlying the formation and progression of haematological and solid tumours, with a particular interest for elucidating adaptive mechanisms that tumour cells ordain to establish a supporting tumour microenvironment.

In this respect, group specific interest lies in the tumorigenic functions of hypoxia inducible transcription factors (HIFs), which are implicated in regulating adaptive responses to hypoxic conditions in physiological and pathological conditions. HIF factors were initially identified as critical regulators of neo-angiogenesis, but more recently have been implicated in several other processes involved in tumour progression, such as metabolic switches occurring in conditions of low oxygen concentrations and high proliferation rates, cancer stem cell maintenance, cell migration and cell invasion. Moreover, HIF factors are currently being recognized as important regulators of tumour cell-microenvironment interactions.

Research activity

The unit study the function of these genes both in haematological malignancies, where their functions have been less studied, as well as in solid tumours. The group has identified novel pathways leading to the activation of HIF factors in sub-types of acute myeloid leukaemia, chronic lymphocytic leukaemia, and breast cancer, and they found that in different tumour contexts HIF factors play different and sometimes opposite functions, such as regulating cell migration or adhesion to stroma and retention in protective niches. Current interest is to elucidate the role of these genes in new tumour contexts and to better understand their regulation upon specific microenvironmental stimuli.