Getting Ready for the 13th BMP Conference in Dubrovnik: Interview with Prof. Carl-Henrik Heldin

In the run-up to the 13th Bone Morphogenetic Protein Conference in Dubrovnik in October, Prof. Dr Carl-Henrik Heldin, Professor at the Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Biochemistry and Cell- and Tumour Biology at Uppsala University, has spoken out about the relevance of Bone Morphogenetic Protein in cancer research. Carl-Henrik Heldin will be one of the highly decorated speakers at the conference in Dubrovnik.

Please explain us the relevance of Bone Morphogenetic Protein (BMP) research in cancer treatment.

There is accumulating evidence that members of the TGFβ family of cytokines are involved in tumourigenesis. Most data implicate TGFβ itself, but there are also observations that Bone Morphogenetic Proteins (BMPs) and other members of the family affect tumour progression. Interestingly, members of the family have both tumour promoting and tumour suppressing activities. Thus, at early tumour stages, they often inhibit growth of cells and induce apoptosis, which counteracts tumour formation. However, in advanced cancers, several TGFβ family members have been shown to promote tumour cell invasiveness and metastasis, and also suppress the immune system and promote angiogenesis, which taken together promote tumour progression. In certain tumour types, e.g. glioblastoma, the tumour suppressing effects of BMPs have been shown to dominate, whereas in other tumour types, e.g. gynaecological cancers, the tumour promoting effects dominate. To elucidate the exact role of BMPs in individual tumours is an important task to understand the mechanisms involved in tumour progression, and, possibly, to find new ways to treat certain groups of cancer patients.

Which types of cancer are you mostly addressing in your research group?

We study molecular mechanisms involved in the control of cell growth, survival and migration. During tumour progression such mechanisms are perturbed by mutations or epigenetic regulation of oncogenes and tumour suppressor genes. These mechanisms are to some extent conserved between different cell types, and thus between different tumour types. However, there are pronounced differences regarding which signalling pathways are affected in different tumours. The specific tumour types we study include breast cancer, prostate cancer, glioblastoma and gynaecological cancers.

What do you expect from the BMP conference in Dubrovnik?

I have attended BMP conferences in this series before and found them to be of very high quality and I have learned a lot from the presentations at these meetings. Given the excellent program, I expect also the upcoming BMP conference in Dubrovnik to be very informative and enjoyable. I am very much looking forward to listening to, and discussing with, the world’s leading experts in the field during some exciting days in Dubrovnik.