Salvador Aznar Benitah

Research group leader at the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies (ICREA), Professor at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB), Barcelona, Spain


Cancer and Aging : Dietary Fats Under Scrutiny

Salvador Aznar Benitah investigates how cells that stand far apart from one another coordinate their function within the body : which are the key signals in such long-distance communication ? More specifically, Pr. Benitah studies the intrinsic mechanisms that regulate adult stem cells. He wishes to understand how disorders in stem cells may lead to both aging and tumor formation and development. Indeed, externally visible aging results from a transformation in the skin stem cells. In both cancer and aging, Salvador Aznar Benitah showed that a proper dietary balance may delay aging and contain tumor progression.

Furthermore, Salvador Aznar Benitah proved a direct relationship between the intake of specific alimentary fats and metastasis. Metastasis is defined as the proliferation of cancer cells outside of the tumor tissue where they originated. When they get loose, metastasis-forming cells attack other organs in the body - this dispersal is responsible for the great majority of cancer deaths. As he studied those cells’ behavior, Salvador Aznar Benitah showed that a diet rich in saturated fat constitutes a risk factor, for health itself, but also for cancer progression. He identified a protein marker that could play a role in fat absorption, and thus have an impact over cancer cell proliferation.

In his laboratory, Salvador Aznar Benitah associates basic research in Biochemistry with new technologies in order to develop innovative anti-metastasis therapies. The Liliane Bettencourt Prize for Life Sciences will give him means to advance his research about the mechanisms of metastasis-forming cells and the impact of diet on their behavior.


My research aims at understanding the interaction between metastasis-forming cells and their environment, in order to stop their development

Salvador Aznar Benitah


Pour toutes les photographies : Art in Research / A. Darmon. 

Salvador Aznar Benitah

Salvador Aznar Benitah is a biologist and biochemist specialized in Metabolism. He was a post-doctoral fellow at Pr. Fiona Watt’s laboratory, at Cancer Research UK, in London. Over there, he became interested with the behavior of adult stem cells.

In 2007, he started his own laboratory at the Center for Genomic Regulation in Barcelona, Spain, and became a professor in Biomedicine in 2012. He has been leading his own research group at the Institute for Research in Biomedicine (IRB) in Barcelona since September 2013.

Salvador Aznar Benitah is internationally renowned for his work on molecular alterations taking place within the skin’s adult stem cells; such modifications being at the root of both aging and several cancers. Salvador Aznar Benitah discovered that stem cells, which are regulated by a circadian rhythm, reprogram themselves throughout our lifetime, in order to face age-related disturbances.

In addition, Salvador Aznar Benitah founded Ona Therapeutics, a biotech company specialized in developing therapies that target the lipid metabolism. He develops a method for inhibiting metastasis-forming cells, a crucial therapeutic issue in the fight against cancer.

  • 2003PhD in Molecular Oncology, Free University of Madrid, Spain
  • 2006Postdoctoral fellow, London Research Institute, Laboratory of Prof. Fiona Watt, Cancer Research UK, London
  • 2007Junior Group Leader, Epithelial homeostasis and cancer laboratory, Center for Genomic Regulation, Barcelona, Spain
  • 2013Senior Group Leader, Stem cells and cancer laboratory, Institute for Research in Biomedicine, Barcelona, Spain
  • 2018ERC Advanced grant, European Research Council
  • 2019Carmen and Severo Ochoa Prize for Biomedical Research
  • 2019AXA Award for Life Sciences
  • 2020Liliane Bettencourt Prize for Life Sciences, Bettencourt Schueller Foundation