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Stem Cells and Cancer

Group Leader: Baggiolini Arianna, PhD


Dr. Arianna Baggiolini is a stem cell and cancer biologist. She completed her BSc and MSc in Biology at the ETHZ and her PhD in Neuroscience at the University of Zurich in the laboratory of Prof. Lukas Sommer. In 2017 she moved to New York to complete her postdoctoral training at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in the laboratory Dr. Lorenz Studer. Dr. Baggiolini has received a number of awards including a SNSF mobility fellowship, a GMTEC Gerry fellowship and selection as 2021 Leading Edge Fellow. In September 2022, she will open the Stem Cells and Cancer group at IOR.

Publications: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/?term=arianna+baggiolini&sort=pubdate

Research Area

DNA mutations are layered onto existing transcriptional programs of the cell that acquires those alterations. The importance of the pre-existing cellular lineage programs is highlighted by the fact that certain DNA mutations are tumorigenic only in particular cellular contexts, a phenomenon called oncogenic competence. Thanks to the human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC)-based technologies, we can study how oncogenic competence changes at different maturation states along a specific cellular lineage.

In melanoma, we have shown that human progenitor cells are more “competent” to acquire a malignant state compared to mature melanocytes. However, competence can be acquired, and mature melanocytes give rise to melanoma upon expression of ATAD2, an epigenetic factor expressed in human progenitor cells and frequently amplified and overexpressed in melanoma patients.

Both lineage programs (cell fate) and maturation programs (cell state) regulate oncogenic competence. Those are not only cell-intrinsic processes, as they are also extensively regulated by the cell-extrinsic factors from the microenvironment. Thanks to the hPSC-derived organoid technologies and mouse models, we study how oncogenic competence is regulated at the cell-intrinsic level and depending on the microenvironment.

Research focus:

Why are only some cells ‘competent’ to form cancer? The Stem Cells and Cancer group studies melanoma and how oncogenic competence is acquired, maintained, and influenced by the microenvironment. The group takes an integrative approach using cutting-edge human pluripotent stem cell (hPSC)-based technologies, cellular engineering, organoid models, and mouse biology to study the mechanisms of oncogenic competence during melanoma initiation and progression.


Baggiolini Arianna, Group Leader

Bellafante Martina

Luongo Raffaele

Verrillo Antonietta