Bio: Prof Chris Heeschen obtained his MD in 1997 at the Free University of Berlin (Germany). During his clinical training in Internal Medicine at the University of Hamburg and the University of Frankfurt (1996 – 2004), he undertook a PhD project in basic mechanisms of angiogenesis and vasculogenic stem cells at the Falk Cardiovascular Research Centre at Stanford University (USA). Prof Heeschen subsequently became Head of the Department Experimental at Ludwig-Maximilian-University in Munich (Germany), and has since held several leadership positions including founding member of the Clinical Research Programme in the Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (2008) and lead of the new Centre for Stem Cells in Cancer & Ageing at Barts Cancer Institute in London (2013). In January of this year, he joined UNSW Sydney to establish his translational research program, with a particular focus on pancreatic cancer, at the Lowy Cancer Research Institute (Randwick Campus) and the Ingham Institute (Liverpool Campus). Prof Heeschen’s work has significantly advanced our understanding of the basic processes of stem cell function and trafficking. His success is evidenced by over 150 articles in high-impact scientific journals including the New England Journal of Medicine, Nature Medicine, The Lancet, Cancer Cell, and Cell Stem Cell, numerous international awards and an ERC Advanced Investigator Grant for pancreatic cancer research.
Abstract: The main objective of our research programme is to improve the still dismal outcome of pancreatic cancer by systematically developing targeted precision medicine strategies that also eliminate highly tumourigenic and metastatic cancer stem cells (CSC). This is supported by our proof-of-concept studies showing that genetic ablation of CSC prevents disease relapse. The inhibition of pathways identified in comprehensive RNAi / CRISPR/Cas9 in vivo screens will reduce CSC content and thus prevent tumour relapse during/following treatment. For this purpose we have developed an array of innovative methods enabling us to isolate, track and study rare human CSC embedded in a comprehensive human tumour microenvironment. Most intriguingly, we are now able to efficiently study metastatic CSC isolated form the blood of pancreatic cancer patients. We are using advanced genetic and pharmacological tools to identify and validate novel targets and their functions in CSC. Studies are complemented using novel genetically engineered mouse models. This work will provide the basis for developing more effective multimodal treatment strategies, jointly targeting CSC, their respective differentiated progenies and the immunosuppressive and CSC-promoting tumour microenvironment.