Using patients’ own cells to kill cancer

Each patient’s tumour will be used for molecular analysis, and for growth as cells and tumors in the lab. The molecular information will be used to decide which family of drugs to test on the patient’s cells and tumors in the lab. The results of drug testing will be directly applied to the patient, determining which effective therapies should be administered to the patient. The cells and tumors grown in the lab will also be used for further drug and biological studies, and we will create a platform for future drug development and testing. (Illustration has been adapted from Creixell et al, 2012, Nature Biotechnology)

Cancer patient survival rates in Denmark are among the poorest in Europe, but a new project aims to use personalized medicine to fight back. A number of public and private partners have come together to treat cancer patients with much better accuracy than before, by using patients’ own cells to identify the best possible treatment.

The spread of cancer from a primary tumor to other parts of the body is called metastasis. Metastasis is very complex and often patients with the same type of cancer do not respond to treatment in the same way. This new project, will establish a precision medicine approach to identifying effective treatment options for individual cancer patients with metastatic cancer and involves an already established clinical program at Rigshospitalet where patient tumors are being molecularly profiled.

This ‘pre-clinical program for cancer precision medicine’ will enable pre-screening of drugs to identify the optimal treatment strategy for each patient, using cells from patients grown in the laboratory and tested with a range of potential anti-cancer drugs. Through the use of patient-derived cells, along with the profiling data to create a personalized treatment strategy, the team is also hopeful they will create a platform for future development of new and targeted drugs in collaboration with pharmaceutical companies.

“With this grant from Innovationsfonden we now have the opportunity to accurately match patients with the treatment option that has the best chance of stopping their cancer in its tracks. For too many patients, treatment for metastatic cancer is not effective yet the side-effects can be devastating. We are extremely excited about the opportunity to bring patients the most effective treatment, and to learn much more about why some medicines work in some but not all situations”, says Janine Erler, Professor at the Biotech Research & Innovation Centre (BRIC), University of Copenhagen.

The project, which will be based at BRIC and Rigshospitalet, is in close collaboration with the pharmaceutical companies AstraZeneca, Roche A/S and MSD. BRIC contributes with extensive expertise within the field of metastasis, while the Rigshospitalet team has wide-ranging knowledge and experience in translating findings directly into the clinic to the patients who matter. The pharmaceutical partners contribute their access to a wide catalogue of anti-cancer medications, and their lengthy experience in research and innovation.


Pre-seed funding for anti-metastasis project

Erlerlab Nov 2016

We have been awarded a Pre-Seed grant by the Novo Nordisk Foundation

The majority of cancer deaths are caused when a primary cancer spreads to different parts of the body, so for a long time we have been interested in preventing this spread (called metastasis). The Novo Nordisk Foundation pre-seed grants are exploratory funds to develop new and life-saving technologies, and the foundation has awarded us a grant to develop new anti-metastatic therapies.

This exciting project means we’ll be recruiting a talented postdoc to join our team. If you’d like to know more information at this early stage, please get in touch (



Knæk Cancer grant: one step closer to breaking cancer!

Erler Lab, Oct 2016

Kræftens Bekæmpelse, the Danish Cancer Society, has awarded us a new grant to personalise the treatments for patients suffering with relapsed glioblastoma (brain tumours) in Denmark. This grant comes under the Knæk Cancer (or ‘Break Cancer’) campaign.

Glioblastoma can vary greatly, so it is important to understand how each individual tumour will respond to different treatments. The aim of this project is to analyse patient samples with a range of tests in the laboratory, to discover the best possible treatment for each unique patient. Similar systems are in place in other countries, however this currently doesn’t exist in Denmark, so we are hopeful that this project will have a big impact on the lives of those fighting brain cancer.

We are grateful to Kræftens Bekæmpelse for their support in this project. You can learn more about Kræftens Bekæmpelse by visiting their website:

Farewell to Dr Tom Cox

Janine Erler, Sept 2016

This week we are saying fond farewells to Dr Tom Cox, who has been part of the Erler group for eight and a half years!

Tom was the second person I hired when I set up my own research group. He joined my lab in May 2008 following his PhD, while we were at the Institute of Cancer Research in London. He moved over to BRIC with me in 2012, and has been my right hand man through all the years. During his time in the lab, Tom has contributed to no fewer than 25 peer reviewed publications and has delivered talks to share our research at nearly 20 conferences.


Over the years Tom has been part of some funny, poignant and downright ludicrous moments, including his foray into professional modelling, when he was featured (twice) in Vogue UK.

Tom has made some fantastic discoveries during his time in the group, including insight into how tumours prepare distant sites for metastatic colonisation.

Other memorable moments include when Tom broke his ankle dancing a Ceilidh 🙂

Although we will miss his sharp observations, his witty jokes, and his ability to reach things on high shelves, we are all really pleased that he is heading to sunny Sydney to establish an independent research career at the Garvan Institute. Personally, I will be losing a limb but I will hobble on somehow!

Wishing you all the very best for the future Tom, and please don’t forget to come and visit us once in a while!

Thomas Cox wins the BSMB Young Investigator John Scott Award 2016

Thomas R. Cox, Sept 2016

I’m honoured to have been awarded the British Society for Matrix Biology (BSMB) John Scott Young Investigator Award 2016 for contributions to matrix biology.

Receiving the award, presented by Professor Andy Pitsillides (BSMB Secretary) and Professor John Couchman (BSMB Chairman)

This prestigious award is presented annually to an early career researcher who has made a significant contribution to matrix biology and has excelled in the early stages of their research career.

You can read more about the award and my work on my research homepage

Our newest team member: Dr Raphael Reuten

Erler Lab, Sept 2016

We are delighted to welcome a new postdoctoral researcher to our group. Please put your hands together for Dr Raphael Reuten.

Raphael is joining us from Germany, and brings his expertise in the Extracellular Matrix (ECM) to help us to understand even more about how the structures around our cells play a role in the progression of cancer. Raphael completed his PhD at the University of Cologne in the lab of Univ.-Prof. Dr. Manuel Koch and has continued his studies in the field of matrix biology ever since.

We are looking forward to making some exciting progress together.



So long m’ate!

Erler Lab, August 2016

Sadly, we are saying a big farewell to Dr Lara Perryman, who is leaving us today after four years in the Erler lab.Lara-final

Lara joined us in 2012 to complete her PhD, after gaining years of research experience working with Prof Chris Jones at the ICR. She finished her PhD last year, and continued working in our group as a postdoctoral research assistant. Among her many findings, Lara’s research into brain cancer has revealed a novel mechanism of glioblastoma invasion. Her brilliant expertise and her invaluable contributions to everyone’s projects will be sorely missed.

Although we’re really sad to see Lara go, she’s returning to her native Australia to begin an exciting new chapter working at Pharmaxis.

Wishing you all the very best for the future Lara, and watch out for all the spiders and snakes down under!

Postdoc position available

By Erler Lab, July 2016

We are looking for a highly motivated and dynamic researcher, with specific skills to undertake research into how the extracellular matrix regulates cancer progression.

The postdoc will investigate how the extracellular matrix regulates cancer cell behaviour, using multiphoton microscopy to image cell-matrix and cell-cell interactions both ex vivo and in vivo.

Start: Preferably 1st October 2016 or after agreement
Duration: 4 years

The project is supported by an ERC programme grant. For more information, check the University of Copenhagen Job Portal or contact Janine by emailing

Ed Horton awarded Dick Heinegård European Young Investigator Award at MBE 2016

By Ed Horton, June 2016

I recently attended the 2nd Matrix Biology Europe (MBE) conference in Athens, which is an international conference focusing on all aspects of extracellular matrix biology and aims to bring together researchers and scientists from across Europe that are working on matrix biology.

2016-06-11 21.18.07
View of the acropolis from the rooftop restaurant at the conference venue.


IMG_20160614_151806Along with interesting presentations from matrix researchers across Europe, one aspect of the conference was to select the winner of the 2016 Dick Heinegård European Young Investigator Award. This award was set up to commemorate the work of the matrix biologist Dick Heinegård. Each European matrix society selected one nominee for the award and six of these gave a talk at the conference. I was nominated by the British Society for Matrix Biology and gave a talk that summarised my PhD work, that involved using proteomics to study integrin adhesion complexes (PMID: 26833789; PMID; 26479319). I was delighted to be selected as the winner of the award at the meeting.

It was great to attend this conference in Athens and I would recommend this meeting to anyone who has an interest in Matrix Biology. Particular thanks go to the British Society for Matrix Biology for their support. The next meeting will be held in Manchester, UK, in 2018.

Janine Erler is awarded Cancer Society Junior Research Prize

By Erler Lab, May 2016

We are delighted to announce that Janine Erler has been awarded the Danish Cancer Society Junior Research Prize.

The Danish Cancer Society (Kræftens Bekæmpelses) has recognised Janine’s pioneering work into the role of the enzyme LOX in cancer progression and her ongoing efforts to identify new ways to prevent the spread of cancer throughout the body. Janine has been researching cancer for the past 16 years.

Janine was responsible for the discovery of an enzyme called LOX which cancer cells release. Thanks to her team, we now know that LOX causes changes to their immediate environment, making it easier for the cancer to spread to new parts of the body. This spread of cancer is called metastasis, and is responsible for 90% of cancer deaths.

What have Janine and her team found so far?

Cancer cells release LOX to identify cancer-free sites. LOX change the structure of the organs, making tissue better suited for cancer invasion. By measuring the levels of LOX enzyme in head and neck cancer patients, disease progression can be accurately predicted. Janine has also developed a drug that blocks the LOX process, and this drug is being tested in clinical trials.

And what about the future?
Janine and her team will continue to research LOX, particularly the role it plays in different cancer types. Another goal is to develop new ways to disrupt and block the LOX enzyme, using methods that are totally unique to different cancers and different patients.

We are all thrilled that Janine’s hard work has been celebrated by the Danish Cancer Society, and we are very grateful to the society for their support.

Visit the Danish Cancer Society’s website to learn more and watch a video about Janine’s award (Danish text/English audio).