Close up of researcher working with samples in a lab

Research projects

Discovering if mesothelioma cells compete or cooperate

Dr Nicolas Alcala
Project period
Apr 2024 - Mar 2027
Research Institute
International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC)
Cancer types
Lung cancer
Award amount

Project aim

Dr Nicolas Alcala and his team are hoping to better understand how mesothelioma cells interact with one another and with their surrounding environment. They hope to reveal clues about how to diagnose or prevent this aggressive type of cancer.

Hope for the future

Mesothelioma is a rare but incurable cancer mainly caused by exposure to asbestos. There are currently limited treatment options and more research is needed to better understand this type of cancer and find new cures.

One reason that mesothelioma is hard to treat is that the cancer contains lots of different types of cells, making it harder for targeted therapies to work. By better understanding how these different cell types develop and how they behave, Dr Nicolas Alcala hopes to find new ways to diagnose, prevent or treat mesothelioma.


A microscopic picture of a tumor - the coloured dots show gene activity

Meet the scientist

Outside of the lab, Dr Alcala enjoys playing the piano – particularly improvising and borrowing from styles such as jazz, classical, indigenous music, and even pop music and soundtracks from movies and video games. He also enjoys martial arts, especially karate.

The science

Up until now researchers have thought that the different cells in mesothelioma compete with each other, but Dr Nicolas Alcala believes that the cells actually co-operate with each other and form a successful ecosystem. If his idea is correct then this would pave the way for new cures for mesothelioma.

Dr Nicolas Alcala and his team will use a variety of scientific approaches to build up a picture of how mesothelioma develops and how it interacts with the tumour microenvironment around it. Innovative sequencing and computer programming will give the team a lot of new insights about the factors involved in mesothelioma development.

They hope this will lead to exciting new ways to diagnose the disease earlier or prevent it in people exposed to asbestos who are at higher risk of developing mesothelioma.

Dr Nicolas Alcala
If we focus on the real endgame of creating a cancer-free world, unfortunately I do not think any approach currently used in the clinic has the potential for it. It means we need to find an entirely novel, bold approach, and this will come from somewhere unexpected, and will have to start from the beginning, with a fundamental, discovery project.

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