The focus of Dr. Melotte research line is to study the role of the enteric nervous system (ENS) in de development and/or progression of colorectal cancer (CRC).
CRC is one of the most common cancers in the world and despite major advances in CRC screening and treatment, it is still one of the most deadly forms of cancer. Compelling evidence has shown that cells surrounding the tumor, the tumor-microenvironment, are involved in carcinogenesis, and are promising therapeutic targets. While perineural invasion and neoneurogenesis are thriving topics within the oncology field, the role of ENS has mostly been neglected so far. 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.
Previously, Dr. Melotte identified NDRG4 as a biomarker for CRC screening, which is patented and incorporated in the FDA approved Cologuard-test, which is currently used in the USA. Moreover, her group found that NDRG4 is specifically expressed in enteric neurons and identified a link between the nervous system of the gut and the development/progression of CRC. Currently they are using and developing new models, 3D-models-, co-culture systems and in vivo models, to better understand the role of the enteric neurons (tumor microenvironment) on tumorigenesis.
In addition to her position in Maastricht, Dr. Melotte has a part-time position at the Erasmus Mc Rotterdam (The Netherlands) since 2016.