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Laureate of the 2012 Liliane Bettencourt Prize for Life Sciences


Fighting Cancer at its Source

Both healthy and cancerous tissues grow from stem cells. Cédric Blanpain investigates the mechanisms behind normal and tumorous tissue growth.

From embryonic development to the maintenance and regeneration of adult tissue, stem cells manage the entire organism from conception to death. This central role may however be double-edged. Cédric Blanpain demonstrated that the versatility of stem cells is involved in several skin and breast cancers. Similar to healthy tissues, cancerous tissues comprise of stem cells which normally function to replace dead cells and regenerate tissues following trauma. However, these functions are compromised in cancers and cause tumorous growth. The high resistance of cancerous stem cells to medical treatments also makes them highly likely to promote relapses.

Supported by the Bettencourt Schueller Foundation, Dr. Blanpain’s project aims to decipher the mechanisms that control the expansion and repair of various tissues during natural growth. It is a complete study of the formation, extension and maintenance of tissues that investigates the entire lifespan, from embryos to healthy adults, and cancers. The potential clinical applications might not only help treat cancer and its relapses more efficiently but could also stimulate the natural repair of tissues that suffered severe burns or were damaged by cardiovascular diseases.


Cédric Blanpain began his career as a medical doctor. He first became accustomed to laboratory tools and techniques upon starting his Ph.D. research on a cell receptor involved in HIV infection. Stem cells entered his career with a subsequent postdoctoral internship at Columbia University. Upon completion of his internship, he had published a series of articles that laid the foundations of our understanding of the maintenance of hair follicles by stem cells. The scope of these discoveries covers the particularities of hair regrowth and offers an explanation of the basic principles of all stem cell regulation as well as a model of stem cell functions in other tissues and mature organs. Ever since, the physician-scientist has been studying those cells that originate skin, breast and prostate cancers, without ever losing sight of the potential clinical applications of his research for patients.

  • 2001Ph.D. in Medical Sciences, Free University of Brussels (ULB) (Belgium)
  • 2002Medical doctor certified for the practice of Internal Medicine, Free University of Brussels (ULB) (Belgium)
  • 2002 - 2006Postdoctoral Internship, Pr. Elaine Fuchs' Laboratory, University of Columbia, New York City (USA)
  • Since 2006Belgian Fund for Scientific Research (FNRS) investigator, team leader at the Interdisciplinary Research Institute in Human and Molecular Biology (IRIBHM), Free University of Brussels (Belgium)
  • 2008 - 2013Starting Grant, European Research Council
  • 2009Young Investigator Award, European Molecular Biology Organization (EMBO)
  • 2012European Molecular Biology Organization member
  • 2012Outstanding Young Investigator Award, International Society of Stem Cell Research
  • 2012Liliane Bettencourt Prize for Life Sciences, Bettencourt Schueller Foundation