The acquisition of organ-specific properties of cells is called cell differentiation, and this process mainly occurs during embryonic development and tissue regeneration. Using transgenic mouse models, mouse embryo-derived organoids and state-of-the-art molecular and cell biology technology, Frédéric Lemaigre and his group determine how genes control differentiation of progenitor cells to mature liver cells, namely hepatocytes, biliary cells and mesenchymal cells. Using 3D imaging and spatial transcriptomics, the lab also investigates how the developing liver cells organise in three dimensions to form the organ. The data collected by the team are shared with experts in tissular engineering and regenerative therapy who attempt to construct liver tissue by recapitulating embryonic processes in vitro.
With help of European clinical centers who share pathological expertise, Frédéric Lemaigre's team also builds on its experience in cell differentiation to further study how liver cancer develops from non-malignant precursor lesions. This process is frequently characterised by loss of differentiation and partial reactivation of embryonic processes; its understanding is required for early diagnosis of liver cancer which too often manifests itself at a late stage of the disease.
Work in the team is performed in close collaboration with the group of Patrick Jacquemin who investigates pancreatic cancer development. The two groups share space, equipment and expertise.