The International Journal of Developmental Biology

Int. J. Dev. Biol. 55: 697 - 702 (2011)

Vol 55, Issue 7-8-9

Special Issue: Mammary Gland in Development & Cancer

From the laboratory to the patient and back - an interview with Marc Mareel

Published: 29 November 2011

Marc E. Bracke*

Laboratory of Experimental Cancer Research, Department of Radiation Oncology and Experimental Cancer Research, University Hospital, Ghent University, Ghent, Belgium


The career of Marc Mareel is a synthesis of scientific research and clinical activity. During his medical studies, he already made his first enthusiastic steps in research via experimental work on avian developmental biology. Later, during his training as a radiotherapist, he founded his own laboratory for experimental cancer research. There he built up his international reputation as a pioneer in invasion research. Although invasion is the hallmark of tumor malignancy, he also kept an open mind about invasion in non-cancer conditions, such as in placental behavior, developmental biology, immunology and parasitology. His contribution to our understanding of invasion mechanisms has been both technical and conceptual. A number of assays have been developed in his lab, such as the embryonic chick heart and collagen gel invasion models, that have been (and still are) useful for many other research teams. He also contributed to the discovery of a number of key elements in the process of invasion, such as the stromal influence (including its extracellular matrix) and the cadherin family of cell-cell adhesion molecules. Concerning metastasis formation, he developed the original concept that a number of interacting eco-systems are implicated, such as the primary tumor, regional lymph nodes, the bone marrow and the (pre)metastatic niches in distant organs. Since his retirement, Marc Mareel has continued to integrate clinical practice with research creativity. He favours the idea of translational research bringing the results of laboratory findings to medical applications, and exploiting the feedback to the laboratory. The team in the Laboratory of Experimental Cancer Research at Ghent University currently consists of about 25 collaborators, who continue to appreciate his inspiring ideas and suggestions.


invasion, metastasis, mammary, ecosystem, translational research

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