In our group, we have two main lines of research:
Cell migration plays a key role in a wide variety of biological phenomena that take place during both embryogenesis and in the adult organism. In addition, this behaviour, a fascinating process in normal cells involving numerous intricately coordinated and controlled processes, becomes destructive and damaging when acquired by cancerous cells. Hence a better understanding of the molecular mechanisms that transform stationary cells into migratory would help to learn more about embryogenesis and to a better understanding of metastasis. The Drosophila model permits the in vivo examination of distinct aspects of cell migration, such as the acquisition of the capacity to migrate or the process of migration itself, from both genetic and molecular perspectives. We exploit the advantages of Drosophila to advance in our understanding of the genetic and molecular mechanisms that regulate these two modes of cell migration. To study collective cell migration, we use the migration of the border cells and that of the follicular epithelium as our model system, while embryonic hemocytes are used to study individual cell migration (Fig.1). In particular, some of our objectives include: to analyse the role of cell-ECM interactions in cell migration; to advance in our understanding of the molecular mechanisms regulating collective cell migration and finally, to identify the signature of a migrating versus stationary mode. In addition, using the larval midgut, we are also trying to characterize genes that promote metastatic behaviour.
The correct epithelialisation of developing tissues and its maintenance is essential for proper organ morphogenesis and homeostasis. We use the follicular epithelium of the Drosophila ovary, a monolayer epithelium, as model system to study the role of cell-ECM interactions on the regulation of the cell shape changes underlying epithelial morphogenesis and maintenance. By combining, biophysical approaches, such as AFM and laser ablation, with mathematical modelling and in vivo analysis, we are particularly interested in analysing the role that cell-ECM interactions play on the control of the function of the actomyosin cytoskeleton as regulators of the cell shape changes underlying epithelial morphogenesis.
I am a founder of the charity DrosAfrica, with the mission of helping to set up an African research community using Drosophila as a model system for human diseases of interest in the area (see http://drosafrica.org for details).