María del Mar Vivanco
María del Mar Vivanco
PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Address: Bizkaia Science and Technology Park,
building 801A, Derio (Bizkaia)
Cancer Heterogeneity Lab
Robert Kypta
ASSOCIATE PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR

Address: Bizkaia Science and Technology Park,
building 801A, Derio (Bizkaia)

María Vivanco graduated from the University of the Basque Country, worked at Sandoz (Basel) and carried out her PhD thesis at EMBL (Heidelberg). After her post-doctoral studies at UCSF (San Francisco), María started her own lab at the Institute of Cancer Research in London, where she identified mammary stem/progenitor cells in the human mammary gland. She has directed her group at CIC bioGUNE since 2005, characterising mammary stem cells and examining their role in resistance to therapy. She is currently studying cancer stem cells as new therapeutic targets. She is on the EMBL Alumni board and the committee of the European Network for Breast Development and Cancer and has worked with breast cancer charities, including Breakthrough and Acambi. She has directed 6 PhD theses.

Breast cancer is a very heterogeneous disease. The identification and characterisation of cells with stem-like properties (cancer stem/progenitor cells, CSCs) in breast cancer has opened new possibilities for anti-cancer therapies. Furthermore, CSCs have been implicated in tumour initiation and resistance to current treatments, including to hormone therapy. In addition, characterisation of the regulation of normal epithelial cell differentiation is fundamental to understanding breast cancer heterogeneity.

The main objective of the laboratory is to gain further insight into the roles of steroid hormone receptors in normal breast tissue and during breast cancer development. Thus, the influences of hormones, other signalling factors and the microenvironment in breast stem cells and in their transformation into cancer initiating cells are being explored, particularly focusing on their effects during development of resistance to hormone therapy. Recent work from the lab has revealed the role of CSCs in resistance to tamoxifen and has highlighted the molecular heterogeneity observed in response to the cell environment. Presently, studies are in progress to improve further our knowledge of the molecular mechanisms regulating stem and cancer stem cells with the final aims of (1) identifying biomarkers of resistance to therapy and (2) progressing our understanding of breast cancer biology