Boccellato Group: for non-scientists
Around 20% of human cancers are caused by pathogens such as bacteria. A common feature of the so-called “cancer-causing bacteria” is their capacity to colonise the tissue for years and to be able to escape the control of our immune system. This capacity is the result of a long lasting co-evolution of the bacterial virulence factors and of the host weapons to counteract the infection. The pathogen is able to persist for years while the host is able to confine the infection in small niches of our body. These infection niches might persist for over 20-40 years and the body’s cells in these niches acquire different features from neighbouring healthy cells. To understand the infection niche we have deconstructed it into building blocks and reconstructed it in the lab. The building blocks are the different cells and the bacteria. The mortar-like substances that keep the building blocks together are the factors needed for the cells to communicate and sustain each other. By regenerating the complexity of the infection niche, we are able to understand the contribution of the single building blocks and how their interactions change if we modify the composition of the mortar that keeps them together.