Research Programs & Groups

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Cancer research is a major strategic area of the University of Zurich (UZH) and the University Hospital Zurich (USZ). Together, UZH and USZ have recently established the Comprehensive Cancer Center Zurich (CCCZ) uniting innovative cancer research and cancer patient care. In collaboration with numerous academic and industry partners the CCCZ forms an interdisciplinary cancer network in Zurich.

Within the CCCZ, the Cancer Research Center (CRC) integrates and supports cancer research activities of the UZH, USZ, Children`s Hospital, Balgrist University Hospital and Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH). As an interdisciplinary research platform, it facilitates cutting edge research on the molecular and cellular mechanisms of cancer, the establishment of novel preclinical disease models, the development of innovative technologies and the pre-clinical testing of novel therapeutic approaches.

Towards these objectices, dedicated research programs have been established for Tumor Immunology, (Epi)Genetics & Genomics, Oncogenic Signaling and Imaging & Technology Developmen. In these programs, scientists and physicians from around 55 research groups and clinical departments work closely together to streamline and facilitate the translation of scientific discoveries into clinical application. The overall aim is to develop novel therapeutic and diagnostic procedures and to ultimately improve cancer patient care.

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Tumor Immunology Program

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OVERVIEW

There is clear evidence from patients and preclinical cancer models that the immune system can control cancer, a process termed tumor immune surveillance. In most cancer patients, however, immune surveillance is insufficient. It became clear recently that tumors often compromise protective immunity. Moreover, the tumor can employ particular immune cells to promote tumor growth and metastasis. Overcoming these hurdles and thus harnessing the immune system in controlling cancer is the main challenge of the Tumor Immunology Program. Over the past ten years, cancer therapy was revolutionized by the advent of immune therapies, in particular immune checkpoint inhibitors. Although such therapies are beneficial for a significant proportion of cancer patients, we still lack fundamental knowledge about the immune defense against cancer. For example, we don’t understand the precise mode of action of many immune therapies or their adverse effects and we just begin to understand mechanisms of therapy resistance.
A better understanding of biological processes involved in the abovementioned aspects of tumor immunology is necessary for development of new or improvement of existing treatments as well as for rationalistic combination of existing therapies. We will acquire such knowledge by promoting collaboration and exchange between basic and physician scientists. We think that our tumor immunology program will significantly contribute to better treatment of cancer.


AIMS

  • Understand the mutual interaction and impact of cancer and the immune system
  • Identify potential immune response-related therapeutic targets and validate those with preclinical models
  • Discover immune response-related biomarkers for progression and response to therapy
  • Develop novel or improve existing immune therapies for cancer


FOCUS TOPICS

  • Innate and adaptive immune defense against cancer
  • Tumor microenvironment
  • Metastasis
  • Immunotherapy
  • Therapy resistance
  • Immune biomarkers

                                

RESEARCH GROUPS

Burkhard Becher
Bernd Bodenmiller
Lubor Borsig
Onur Boyman
Reinhard Dummer
Lukas Flatz
Urs Greber
Kuno Lehmann
Markus Manz
Christian Münz
Dario Neri
Cesar Nombela-Arrieta
Michael Scharl
Christian Stockmann
Maries van den Broek
Michael Weller

Epigenetics-Genetics-Genomics Program

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OVERVIEW

Epigenetics refers to a number of modifications of chromatin, either to DNA directly or to its associated histone complexes that affect DNA-based processes, such as transcription, DNA repair, and replication without altering the primary sequence of DNA. Many of the hallmarks of cancer, such as malignant self-renewal, differentiation blockade, evasion of cell death, and tissue invasiveness are profoundly influenced by changes in the epigenome. One aim of our research program is to improve our understanding of networks of epigenetic regulators by joint projects involving clinical and basic researchers as well as the biobanks. This will provide further mechanistic understanding of the interplay between genetic and epigenetic alterations and will allow developing novel epigenome-targeted therapeutic strategies. A further focus of this research direction will be tumor genomics, i.e. the analysis at the genome level of entire tumor genomes by means of next generation sequencing. Finally, we aim to understand how mutations in DNA arise and how they lead to cancer. The DNA of all organisms exists in a milieu that is intrinsically mutagenic; substances that are essential for life, such as water and oxygen, as well as numerous other reagents present in the cells, constantly modify DNA bases. In addition, cells are exposed to exogenous agents such as ultraviolet radiation, ionizing radiation or chemicals, which also damage DNA. If this damage is not repaired before the cell divides, the machinery responsible for duplicating the DNA content of the dividing cells copy the template DNA incorrectly and thus give rise to mutations. Alternatively, DNA damage such as strand breaks brings about deleterious genomic rearrangements or chromosome breaks. One focus of our work is to understand how different types of DNA damage are repaired, and to study the consequences of DNA repair malfunction. We are also interested to learn how other types of stress, such as the exposure to pathogens, can affect genome integrity.

 

AIMS

  • Understand the mechanistic basis of genome rearrangements arising during perturbed DNA replication in stem- and somatic cells, playing key roles in cancer onset and therapy
  • Understand how deregulation of genome integrity maintenance in cancer cells creates vulnerabilities that can be exploited therapeutically
  • Identify novel molecular mechanisms of gene regulation and revealing potential targets for cancer therapy
  • Implement personalized medicine in prostate cancer through the identification and functional characterization of key genes and pathways
  • Decipher the molecular framework of DNA damage signalling and repair for the rational design of targeted anti-cancer therapies
  • Develop new therapeutic strategies for the treatment of cancer, which are based on targeting specific DNA-repair pathways with small molecule inhibitors
  • Understand how embryonic cell programs are harnessed by cancer and to model tumor formation in vivo
  • Identify better predictive biomarkers for precision medicine and novel targets in late stage melanoma
  • Improve diagnosis and treatment of pediatric sarcomas

 

FOCUS TOPICS

  • DNA repair pathways
  • Genome (in)stability
  • DNA damage response
  • Replication stress
  • Gene regulation
  • Functional (epi)genomics
  • DNA methylation, histone modifiers, chromatin remodelers
  • Genome engineering
  • Develop targeted precision anti-cancer therapies
  • Cell fate
  • Cancer models


RESEARCH GROUPS

Matthias Altmeyer
Tuncay Baubec
Felix Beuschlein
Jacob Corn
Michael Detmar
Daniel Fink
Kerstin Gari
Pavel Janscak
Mitch Levesque
Massimo Lopes
Giancarlo Marra
Holger Moch
Andreas Moor
Christian Mosimann
Anne Müller
Hanspeter Nägeli
Lorenza Penengo
Gerhard Rogler
Raffaella Santoro
Alessandro Sartori
Beat Schäfer
Manuel Stucki

Oncogenic Signaling Program

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OVERVIEW

The intercellular signals and intracellular signal transduction pathways that control the development of all multicellular organisms are frequently mutated and deregulated in human cancers and as such contribute to growth and invasion. Research on animal model organisms, such as C. elegans (roundworm), D. melanogaster (fruit fly), zebrafish, and mice, significantly contributes to the understanding of genetic and biochemical events leading to cancer formation. By bringing together researchers studying oncogenic signaling pathways during normal animal development and in animal models of tumorigenesis with clinical researcher studying the same pathways in human tumor cells, we generate many synergies from which both clinical and basic research will benefit. A long-term outcome of this research is that we will better understand the compensatory effects underlying cancer drug resistance of tumor cells and be able to predict the outcome of specific pharmacological interventions at the molecular level. Obtaining this knowledge is an essential requirement for the development of personalized cancer therapies.


AIMS

  • Understand how cell-to-cell communication controls growth and patterning in development and disease
  • Understand molecular mechanisms of inflammation-associated diseases
  • Identification of processes on the molecular, cellular and tumor pathophysiological level that regulate the response to radiotherapy and thereby co-determine treatment outcome
  • Determine molecular mechanisms underlying melanoma initiation, growth, and metastasis formation, with a particular focus on embryonic programs reactivated during tumorigenesis
  • Develop novel diagnostic and therapeutic approaches


FOCUS TOPICS

  • Intercellular signals and intracellular signal transduction pathways (e.g. wnt, kinases)
  • Developmental biology
  • Stem cell biology
  • Treatment resistance
  • Cellular mechanisms and molecular control of tissue invasion
  • Inflammation
  • Cell death
  • Tumor biomarkers
  • Tissue Repair/Wound Healing
  • Tumor Models
  • Outcome prediction of pharmacological interventions
  • Development of personalized cancer therapies
  • Organs: Brain, CRC, Childhood Leukemia, pediatric sarcomas, pleural mesothelioma


RESEARCH GROUPS

Konrad Basler
Martin Baumgartner
Beat Bornhauser
Jean-Pierre Bourquin
Pierre-Alain Clavien
Raghvendra Dubey
Alex Hajnal
Jason Holland
Michael Hottiger
Felix Niggli
Martin Pruschy
Isabelle Schmitt-Opitz
Lukas Sommer
Achim Weber
Sabine Werner
Lynn Wong

Imaging & Technology Development Program

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OVERVIEW

We have witnessed tremendous technological progress in various fields such as computer science, robotics, sensor development, big data analysis and artificial intelligence. Many of these developments have been transferred into medicine and have contributed to a substantial improvement in diagnosis and treatment of various cancers. We aim at developing novel medical imaging methodologies such as innovative MRI sequences, targeted PET tracers for PET imaging and in particular quantitative radiomics analysis with the goal of more accurate and deep cancer characterization. In addition, wearable sensors have become broadly available and promise a comprehensive and observed independent patient characterization. Furthermore, molecular high-throughput methodologies (e.g. next-generation sequencing, epigenomics, proteomics, metabolomics and imaging) are indispensable for molecular diagnostics, patient stratification and monitoring of diseases. To integrate and exploit these enormous amounts of heterogeneous high-throughput and clinical data state-of-the the-art bioinformatics and informatics technologies are pivotal. All OMICS approaches benefit from the technological progress with substantially increased sample throughput and simultaneously reduced costs. We aim to systematically integrated these biomarkers into multi-systems decision-making algorithms, treatment planning and response assessment. Ultimately, this will lead to novel personalized therapeutic strategies.


AIMS

  • Develop and apply methods for computer-aided drug design, i.e. epigenetics targets (bromodomains) and RNA-binding proteins (m6A readers)
  • Using virus vectors for anti-cancer treatments
  • Establish radiomics biomarkers as a standard component in personalized health outcome modelling
  • Use protein engineering to develop new protein therapeutics
  • Develop radioactive drugs for non-invasive diagnosis and therapy of metastatic cancerous lesions


FOCUS TOPICS

  • Innovative MRI sequences and targeted PET tracers
  • Quantitative image analysis and radiomics
  • High-throughput diagnostics
  • Bioinformatincs, especially machine learning, artificial intelligence and deep learning
  • Multi-systems decision-making algorithms for treatment planning and response assessment
  • Image-guided treatment
  • Computer-aided drug design
  • Virus vectors in anti-cancer treatments
  • Protein engineering to develop new protein therapeutics
  • Radioactively labeled molecules for innovative, targeted tumor therapies


RESEARCH GROUPS

Amedeo Caflisch 
Daniel Eberli
Urs Greber
Matthias Guckenberger
Jürg Hodler
Andreas Plückthun
Roger Schibli

Research Groups A-Z

A-F

Matthias Altmeyer
Konrad Basler
Tuncay Baubec
Martin Baumgartner
Burkhard Becher
Felix Beuschlein
Bernd Bodenmiller
Beat Bornhauser
Maries van den Broek
Jean-Pierre Bourquin
Lubor Borsig
Onur Boyman
Amedo Caflisch
Pierre-Alain Clavien
Jacob Corn
Michael Detmar
Raghvendra Dubey
Reinhard Dummer
Daniel Eberli
Daniel Fink
Lukas Flatz

G-K

Kerstin Gari
Urs Greber
Matthias Guckenberger
Alex Hajnal
Jason Holland
Michael Hottiger
Jürg Hodler
Pavel Janscak

L-R

Kuno Lehmann
Mitch Levesque
Massimo Lopes
Markus Manz
Giancarlo Marra
Holger Moch
Christian Mosimann
Anne Müller
Christian Münz
Hanspeter Nägeli
Dario Neri
Felix Niggli
Cesar Nombela-Arrieta
Lorenza Penengo
Andreas Plückthun
Martin Pruschy
Gerhard Rogler

S-Z

Raffaella Santoro
Alessandro Sartori
Beat Schäfer
Michael Scharl
Roger Schibli
Isabelle Schmitt-Opitz
Lukas Sommer
Christian Stockmann
Achim Weber
Michael Weller
Sabine Werner
Lynn Wong


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