Translational Lung Cancer Biology - Carlos Lopez-Garcia

Carlos completed his PhD at the University of Murcia (Spain) in 2007, where he investigated the role of polyamine metabolism in prenatal development. Later that year, he joined the laboratory of Doug Winton at the CRUK Cambridge Institute with a postdoctoral fellowship awarded by the regional government of Murcia (Spain) to investigate stem cell dynamics in the intestinal epithelium. In 2011, Carlos joined the laboratory of Professor Charles Swanton at the London Research Institute (later The Francis Crick Institute) where he investigated new drivers of chromosomal instability in colorectal cancer and identified BCL9L as novel driver of aneuploidy tolerance

In 2019, Carlos joined the CRUK Manchester Institute as Senior Research Associate in the Cancer Biomarker Centre, led by Professor Caroline Dive. He became an Institute Fellow in 2021 with a project grant funded by the NC3Rs to develop new human models of lung squamous cell carcinoma.


Lung cancer is a cancer type characterised by multiple histological subtypes (such as small cell and non-small cell lung cancer), which can also be subdivided into molecular subtypes with different prognoses, driver genes and dysregulated pathways. This heterogeneity is especially prominent in lung squamous cell carcinoma (LUSC), the second most frequent type of non-small lung cancer after lung adenocarcinoma, and one of the most aggressive forms of lung cancer. Multiple driver genes and pathways have been involved in LUSC progression, including inactivation of TP53 and CDKN2A tumour suppressors and somatic alterations in components of multiple oncogenic pathways (Figure 1A).

team photo
Figure 1. A: Tumour suppressors and oncogenic pathways involved in LUSC development. The individual and combined roles of those alterations in driving LUSC is mostly unknown.

These alterations, which arise in a defined order during LUSC evolution (Figure 1B), occur in subsets of patients with no clear correlation with molecular subtypes or trends towards co-occurrence or mutual exclusivity. The poor understanding of this inter-patient heterogeneity hinders the development of therapeutic approaches to treat LUSC, which is currently without targeted therapies. Additionally, this lack of therapies to treat LUSC patients emphasises the importance of early detection and the identification of methods to detect preinvasive LUSC stages to prevent deaths by LUSC.

team photo
Figure 1. B: Recurrent evolutionary history of LUSC observed in patients. OS: Oxidative stress; SD: Squamous differentiation.

In our laboratory, we intend to disentangle the biological meaning of this heterogeneity, using a multiangle approach to explore the individual and cooperative role of major LUSC drivers in the transformation of the homeostatic bronchial epithelium into preinvasive stages and ultimately invasive. In addition, we are investigating the therapeutic potential of targeting genes located in focal chromosomal amplifications and deletions that have been frequently observed in subsets of LUSC patients. Understanding the biological meaning of this LUSC evolution and inter-patient heterogeneity is necessary to design new personalised therapeutic strategies and to gain a better knowledge about the mechanisms that drive LUSC progression.

Development of a New Human Model of Lung Squamous Cell Carcinoma Progression


Lung squamous cell carcinoma (LUSC) arises from the accumulation of genomic alterations in basal cells, the resident stem cells in the bronchial epithelium. Regardless of a complex pattern of driver genes and extensive heterogeneity, LUSC tumours present important commonalities such as frequent inactivation of TP53 and CDKN2A, genetic alterations recurrently targeting important pathways and repetitive temporal patterns in which genetic alterations occur during tumour evolution. This new perspective into LUSC genetics can be exploited to build more accurate LUSC models that reflect patient heterogeneity and the developmental stages of the disease. Using cultured human basal cells (HBCs) constitutes an excellent system to develop these comprehensive models of LUSC and replace large cohorts of mouse models in a wide range of basic and translational research areas. In this project, we will recapitulate the evolutionary history of LUSC in HBCs in order to build a new human model of LUSC progression, thereby providing an alternative in vitro model of this disease.

Human lung squamous cell carcinoma stained with chromogenic in-situ hybridisation targeting mRNA from the gene lumican (red), which accumulates in the cellular component of the tumours’ interstitial matrix. Counterstained with haematoxylin.





To develop this model, we will generate genetically-engineered HBCs harbouring cumulative genetic alterations in a sequential manner, mimicking the evolutionary stages of LUSC. The selection of genetic alterations will be based on high frequency of mutations in patients, alterations targeting pathways recurrently altered in LUSC and drivers of intratumour heterogeneity. To validate the model, we will analyse the cumulative role of the genetic alterations in driving the landmarks of LUSC progression, including invasiveness, epithelial alterations, proliferation, gene-expression changes, genome instability and secretion of immuno-modulatory factors. This model will enable us to replace mouse models to investigate clinically relevant aspects of LUSC biology such as precancerous stages and cooperation of somatic alterations, and will reflect better the human biology and heterogeneity of LUSC.

Interrogating the precancerous evolution of pathway dysfunction in lung squamous cell carcinoma


LUSC is characterised by a sequence of low and high-grade preinvasive stages with increasing probability of malignant progression. Increasing our knowledge about the biology of these premalignant lesions (PMLs) is necessary to design new methods of early detection and prevention, and to identify the molecular processes that are key for malignant progression.


To facilitate this research, we have designed XTABLE, an open-source application that integrates the most extensive transcriptomic databases of PMLs published so far (see preprint Roberts et al) .

Selected Publications

Matthew Roberts, Julia Ogden, A S Md Mukarram Hossain, Alastair Kerr, Caroline Dive, Jennifer E Beane, Carlos Lopez-Garcia.
Interrogating the Precancerous Evolution of Pathway Dysfunction in Lung Squamous Cell Carcinoma Using XTABLE.
bioRxiv 2022.05.06.490640; doi:

Wilson SJ, Howarth PJ, Thomas MJ, Adcock IM, López-García C.
CEACAM5 is an IL-13-regulated epithelial gene that mediates transcription in type-2 (T2) high severe asthma.
Allergy [Epub 2 Aug 2022] Article (PMID: 35916059).

Gronroos E, López-García C. (2018)
Tolerance of Chromosomal Instability in Cancer: Mechanisms and Therapeutic Opportunities.
Cancer Research 78(23):6529-6535. PubMed abstract (PMID: 30420473)

López-García C, Sansregret L, Domingo E, McGranahan N, Hobor S, Birkbak NJ, Horswell S, Grönroos E, Favero F, Rowan AJ, Matthews N, Begum S, Phillimore B, Burrell R, Oukrif D, Spencer-Dene B, Kovac M, Stamp G, Stewart A, Danielsen H, Novelli M, Tomlinson I, Swanton C. (2017)
BCL9L Dysfunction Impairs Caspase-2 Expression Permitting Aneuploidy Tolerance in Colorectal Cancer.
Cancer Cell 31(1):79-93. PubMed abstract (PMID: 28073006)

Sansregret L, Patterson JO, Dewhurst S, López-García C, Koch A, McGranahan N, Chao WCH, Barry DJ, Rowan A, Instrell R, Horswell S, Way M, Howell M, Singleton MR, Medema RH, Nurse P, Petronczki M, Swanton C. (2017)
APC/C Dysfunction Limits Excessive Cancer Chromosomal Instability.
Cancer Discovery 7(2):218-233. PubMed abstract (PMID: 28069571)

Cremades A, Del Rio-Garcia J, Lambertos A, López-Garcia C, Peñafiel R. (2016)
Tissue-specific regulation of potassium homeostasis by high doses of cationic amino acids.
Springerplus 5:616. PubMed abstract (PMID: 27330882)

López-Garcia C, Ramos-Molina B, Lambertos A, López-Contreras AJ, Cremades A, Peñafiel R. (2013)
Antizyme inhibitor 2 hypomorphic mice. New patterns of expression in pancreas and adrenal glands suggest a role in secretory processes.
PLoS One 8(7):e69188. PubMed abstract (PMID: 23874910)

Lopez-Garcia C, Klein AM, Simons BD, Winton DJ. (2010)
Intestinal stem cell replacement follows a pattern of neutral drift.
Science 330(6005):822-5. PubMed abstract (PMID: 20929733)

Graduate Student
Julia Ogden

Scientific Officer
Anthony Oojagger

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