PD Dr. Santoro Raffaella

Main Field of Research
Despite sharing the same genome, different cell types from a given organism respond differently to environmental, developmental or metabolic cues. This variable property is a defining aspect of a cell’s identity and is mainly interpreted at the level of epigenetic signature and chromatin organization. A complex epigenetic network, which includes the coordinated action of histone modifying enzymes, DNA methyltransferases and non-coding RNAs regulate cell functions throughout a person’s lifetime and establish the blueprint for the tissues of the developing embryo. Consequently, each cell has its own epigenetic pattern that must be carefully established and maintained to regulate proper gene expression. Perturbations in these carefully arranged patterns can lead to congenital disorders or predispose people to acquire disease states such as cancers. Primary goals over the next decade will include improving our understanding of the epigenetic mechanisms and gene expression in physiological and pathological conditions, and offer important strategies for the development of effective therapies and diagnosis markers for a wide variety of diseases, including cancer.

The aim of our laboratory is to understand epigenetic regulatory systems that contribute to the susceptibility and development of complex diseases. We address challenging questions of epigenetic regulation in physiological and pathological conditions such as:

1.   How chromatin and epigenetic states are inherited during cell division

2.   How chromatin and epigenetic states are established during stem cell differentiation

3.   How epigenetic alterations in cancer genomes are established and their role in disease progression and clinical outcomes

Our research is focused on the basic understanding of epigenetic regulation in disease with the aim to provide important information for treatment and diagnosis. We have recently shown that the epigenetic factor TIP5 (BAZ2A) is implicated is aggressive prostate cancer through epigenetic silencing of genes critical to cancer. We linked these molecular findings with recurrence in clinical samples by showing that TIP5 is an early prognostic marker that distinguishes prostate cancer with metastatic potential, aiding in therapy decision making the important patient subgroup of low/intermediate risk cases.

Our ongoing work aims to elucidate epigenetic regulation of stem-like traits in cancer that have the potential to unravel important insights into phenotypic features, functional properties and molecular regulation of aggressive cancer and be instrumental in facilitating the identification and development of new diagnostic and therapeutic targets.

Main Fields of Research, Keywords
Epigenetic and chromatin regulation, pluripotent stem cells, cancer

Special Techniques and Equipment
Epigenomic, transcriptomic and proteomic analyses, state-of-the art equipment for molecular and cellular biology, as well as biochemistry, mouse models.

Education and Training
We have opportunities for Master’s students, PhD students, and postdoctoral fellows. The Institute hosts regular seminars with international speakers. We also hold regular journal clubs, data clubs and group meetings.