About Us

The Swiss Institute for Experimental Cancer Research (ISREC) is a part of EPFL’s School of life sciences. Its research groups investigate a spectrum of biological systems that are variously co-opted or disrupted during the development of cancer, as well as mechanisms that modulate cell homeostasis and organ development.

Research topics

Prominent amongst the research themes is the use of genetically engineered mouse models of human cancer, which are being employed to

  • elucidate genetic and epigenetic mechanisms by which tumours develop and progress to more aggressive states of malignancy,
  • reveal the complex interplay of mutant cancer cells with recruited and corrupted host cells in their collective tumour microenvironment;
  • identify heterotypic cell-cell interactions that are instrumental for malignant progression of tumours to lethal disease
  • engineering drugs that disrupt such interactions so as to improve cancer therapy.

Another theme involves investigation of resistance mechanisms that inevitably arise in response to cancer therapy, with the goal to discover means to circumvent them and produce more enduring therapeutic responses. This is pursued through innovative technologies and bioengineered systems, such as tumour-on-a-chip and organoid models, as well as genetic mouse models and cross-correlative analysis of clinical samples. Additional themes include signalling pathways that regulate aspects of embryogenesis and organogenesis, and mechanisms orchestrating the cell division cycle and the maintenance of genomic integrity during cell proliferation.

Strategic goals

ISREC’s strategic goals include expediting progress toward deeper understanding of the biology and genetics of cancer, leveraging new knowledge forthcoming to develop and evaluate impactful new mechanism-guided therapeutic strategies. Other goals are to contribute to the growing success of the School of life sciences as an intellectual community and to inspire, instruct, and train students at all levels of their career development.

Research groups and collaborations

The ISREC institute is directed by Douglas Hanahan, and currently consists of 15 core and 2 affiliated faculty members.

Beyond the institute itself, ISREC faculty members are broadly interactive and collaborative, with other institutes at EPFL, most notably the Institute of Bioengineering (IBI), and with the diverse components of the Swiss Cancer Center Leman (SCCL), including the Lausanne branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research at the University of Lausanne (UNIL) and the Department of Oncology at the University of Lausanne’s hospital and biomedical campus (CHUV), as well as the University of Geneva (UniGE) and its hospital (HUG).

The ISREC is prominently involved in the activities of the multi-institutional Swiss Cancer Center Leman (SCCL). EPFL’s cancer and bioengineering institutes have a major presence in the new AGORA translational cancer research building, which serves as a flagship of the SCCL.

SCIENTIFIC ADVISORY BOARD

Prof. J. Michael Bishop

Director, GW Hooper Foundation Department of Microbiology and Immunology UCSF, San Francisco, CA, USA

Prof. Elizabeth Blackburn

Emeritus Professor at UCSF and President Emerita at the Salk Institute

Prof. David Lane

Chief Scientist A*STAR (Agency for Science, Technology and Research) Singapore

Prof. Karen Vousden

Senior Group Leader - The Francis Crick Institute, London UK

Prof. Erwin Wagner

Director BBVA Foundation - CNIO Cancer Cell Biology Program Head of the Genes, Development and Disease Group Spanish National Cancer Research Centre - CNIO Madrid, Spain