Experimental Cancer Pathology

Dr. Veerle Melotte

The focus of this research line is to study the role of the enteric nervous system in de development and/or progression of colorectal cancer (CRC).

Previously, within the group of Prof. Manon van Engeland, we identified N-Myc-Downstream Regulated Gene 4 (NDRG4) as a biomarker for CRC screening, which is patented and incorporated in the FDA approved Cologuard-test currently used in the USA.

We obtained promising data which show that NDRG4, a protein specifically expressed in the enteric nervous system (ENS), can influence CRC development/progression. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is the intrinsic neural network of the gastrointestinal tract, which is essential for regulating gut functions and intestinal homeostasis. The ENS, also referred to as the ‘second brain’ or ‘minibrain’, consists out of an extensive network of enteric neurons and enteric glial cells organized in ganglia interconnected by nerve fiber bundles. The importance of the ENS is underscored by the existence of severe gastrointestinal diseases, such as Hirschspurng’s disease and intestinal pseudo-obstruction, which arise when the ENS fails to develop normally or becomes dysregulated. Moreover, it is known that enteric neurons are involved in intestinal inflammation. However, the role of the ENS in colorectal cancer (CRC) carcinogenesis remains poorly understood, even though processes like perineural invasion and neoneurogenesis are important factors in CRC.