Our body is made of more than ten trillion cells (a number that looks like this 10.000.000.000.000). When we were conceived, however, we were a single cell!
Embryonic development is that process that drives the formation of this vast number of different cells, each one executing a diverse task: transmitting the electrical impulses (neurons in the brain), contracting (muscle and pumping heart cells), transporting oxygen (red blood cells), and many others.
The problem is that all the cells within an organism (with very rare exceptions) possess the same genetic material. How could a single “instruction manual” impose a different identity to each cell?
The Cantù Lab at LiU is focused on this important goal: to discover the mechanisms of genome regulation that drive specialization during embryonic development.
Our efforts are not only aimed at solving the incredible mechanisms that generate this complexity but might also impact our understanding of human disease. Several human pathological conditions, in fact, arise precisely when the mechanisms of cell-cell communication and genome-regulation are perturbed. For example, those mechanisms that drive extensive cell proliferation in a growing embryo might be aberrantly reactivated in an adult organism and can cause cancer.
Hence, the discovery of novel molecular details of embryonic development bears the potential of generating new marker for disease disagnosis and, perhaps in the future, novel therapeutic avenues for curing such diseases.
In the Cantù lab we make use of sophisticated tools, from mouse genetics to high-throughput state-of-the-art biochemical approaches, to discover the composition of signals and the protein “arsenal” that, in each cell type, allows the activation of the correct genes, while leaving silent many others.
Our experimental efforts are focused on the so-called ‘Wnt signalling pathway’, a molecular cascade important for virtually all aspects of development, and whose deregulation causes human malformations and several forms of aggressive cancers, among which colorectal cancer.