Institut für Pathologie

Medizinische Universität Graz

Forschungslabor Prof. Höfler


Our aim is to understand, how altered cellular as well as whole body lipid metabolism is involved in the development and progression of cancer. In a multidisciplinary approach our lab brings together researchers from basic and clinical sciences that focus on the understanding of the molecular mechanisms of alterations of the lipolytic pathway in cancer cells. We aim to integrate both basic and translational research to successfully translate novel findings from molecules to humans. The lab is based in the Institute of Pathology in the Medical University of Graz, located in a beautiful area of the city of Graz. With a long-standing experience in biospecimens collection and analysis, the Institute of Pathology provides advanced infrastructure for cancer research. Investigators in our lab use a variety of approaches enabling the development of new experimental models of cancer. In addition, our team collaborates extensively with specialists in charge of the scientific platforms of The Center for Medical Research (ZMF), located in the same medical campus.  

Areas of Focus

Our knowledge on the complexity of cancer is expanding. Although cancer is a genetic disease, deregulating cellular metabolic pathways is essential to facilitate survival and growth in a “hostile” environment. Further insights into the interactions between tumor cells, the tumor-microenvironment and the tumor-macroenvironment (host metabolism) are needed to explain tumor growth and spread. Deeper understanding of this metabolic adaptations and interactions will help to improve our current therapeutical approaches to treat cancer.

Lipid metabolism in cancer

Altered metabolism of cancer cells has been identified as a hallmark of cancer. Targeting tumor metabolism is an increasingly investigated new promising strategy for cancer therapy. Recent studies in our laboratory, and in several other labs, highlighted the importance of understanding metabolic changes in cancer cells. One major research objective of our laboratory is to investigate the role of triglyceride lipases, mainly- but not only- adipose triglyceride lipase (ATGL), during tumor progression and its effect on the properties of cancer cells. We have identified a major difference in lipid metabolism between normal and cancer tissues. Moreover, we are pursuing the regulation of this cascade during tumor formation to understand how these metabolic changes might be acquired. The outcome of these studies can deepen our understanding of the key events during the progression of this devastating disease. Another focus of our research group is the interaction between tumor cells and the macroenvironment (host metabolism). Recent work from our lab linked ATGL to the development of cachexia (Das et al., Science, 2011) and highlighted the importance VLDL in supporting tumor growth (Huang J et al., BBA, 2013) in mouse models. The relevance of these findings in cancer patients remains to be further explored.

Cancer immune response

Cancer immunotherapy has been identified as breakthrough of the year 2013. Intratumoral T-cells have been associated with better prognosis in several types of cancer and have been identified as promising drug targets. The goal of this project is to improve our knowledge on how altered metabolism in cancer cells, particularly lipid metabolism, modulates the ability of the immune system to recognize and attack tumor cells. This might provide important information about the immune recognition of cancer cells and should be relevant to understand novel aspects linking cancer metabolism and the immune response.

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