Many genes that are linked to the initiation and progression of cancer play fundamental roles in embryonic development. Moreover, cell biological processes disturbed in tumor cells (e.g. proliferation, apoptosis and migration) are also involved in normal embryonic development and homeostasis. Our research group uses the aquatic model organism Xenopus to investigate such genes and processes during early and late development and to model human disease, particularly cancer.
We recently successfully adopted the TALEN and CRISPR/Cas9 techniques. Because of the external development of their embryos, these techniques are extremely efficient and very simple to apply in Xenopus and zebrafish. They are starting an exciting new era of genome editing that creates unique opportunities for modeling human disease in these vertebrate organisms.
Our research focuses on Wnt signaling and its interaction with other developmental signaling pathways. We aim at studying cells in their natural environment. Hence we are exploiting GFP technology for in vivo labeling and in real time imaging of specific cell populations in the intact embryo. Several transgenic lines have been generated permitting the in vivo detection of Wnt signaling, cell motility/polarity and cell death. These are used to study the function of Wnt signaling genes and candidate human disease genes in normal organogenesis and in pathological conditions such as cancer.
Transgenic tadpole reporting Wnt activity
Area of expertise
- Signal transduction in development and disease
- TALEN and CRISPR/Cas9 mediated genome editing
- Human disease modeling in Xenopus
Technology transfer potential
- Molecular targets in human pathologies, including cancer
- Animal models for compound testing
- Van Nieuwenhuysen, et al. TALEN-mediated apc mutation in Xenopus tropicalis phenocopies Familial Adenomatous Polyposis.
Oncoscience. 2, 555-566, 2015.
- De Groote et al. A novel RIPK4-IRF6 connection is required to prevent epithelial fusions characteristic for popliteal pterygium syndromes.
Cell Death Differ. 22, 1012-1024, 2015.
- Tran and Vleminckx. Design and use of transgenic reporter strains for detecting activity of signaling pathways in Xenopus.
Methods. 66, 422-432, 2014.
- Tran, et al. Wnt/β-catenin signaling is involved in the induction and maintenance of primitive hematopoiesis in the vertebrate embryo.
Proc Natl Acad Sci USA, 107, 16160-16165, 2010.
- Denayer et al. Canonical Wnt signaling controls proliferation of retinal stem/progenitor cells in post-embryonic Xenopus eyes.
Stem Cells. 26, 2063-2074, 2008.