Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group

In 1998, I embarked on my pre-doctoral studies in the laboratory of Prof. Klaus Aktories at the Institute of Experimental and Clinical Pharmacology and Toxicology, located at the University of Freiburg in Germany. During this time, my research focused on signal transduction pathways, specifically on elucidating the functions and roles of small GTPase proteins from the Rho family in allergic responses.

In 2001, I pursued my postdoctoral studies under the guidance of Prof. Wilhelm Krek. Initially, I joined the Novartis Friedrich Miescher Institute (FMI), and subsequently, I continued my research at the Institute of Cell Biology at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) in Zurich, Switzerland.

During my postdoctoral studies, I focused on studying the signaling pathways associated to the growth factor and nutrient cascades. In January 2010, I established an independent research group specializing in the field of nutrients and cancer at CNIO.

Head of the Growth Factor, Nutrients and Cancer Group Spanish National Cancer Research Centre (CNIO)


Throughout my tenure, I developed expertise in generating and utilizing genetically engineered mouse models, including the creation of two conditional knock-out and five conditional knock-in mouse models.

My research efforts were centered on identifying the molecular mechanisms that link environmental stresses to the pathogenesis of diseases affecting the digestive system organs. Early on, I proposed the concept that metabolic dysfunctions drive genomic instability, highlighting that the hallmarks of cancer are intrinsic to different time-dependent events occurring during tumorigenesis.

Additionally, I played a crucial role in determining the significance of NAD+ depletion in DNA damage and cancer development. Furthermore, I pioneered the use of nicotinamide riboside as an NAD+ supplement for the prevention and treatment of cancer. My contributions have been recognized through several distinctions, including the prestigious Ramon y Cajal Award, as well as national and international funding. These accomplishments led to my promotion to the position of Senior Group Leader in January 2018.

Overall, my research achievements and advancements in the field of nutrients and cancer have received acknowledgment and rewards, further solidifying my expertise in this area.

Post-Doctoral Fellows

Sladjana Zagorac

Educational Profile

2011-2015: PhD degree, Molecular Biosciences (Autonoma University of Madrid, Madid, Spain)

2004-2010: MSc and BSc degree, Molecular Biology and Physiology  (University of Biology in Belgrade, Belgrade, Serbia)

Professional Profile

2022-present: Staff Scientist, at  Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group, CNIO, Madrid, Spain

2020-2022: Post Doctoral Research Fellow, at Epithelial Carcinogenesis Group, CNIO, Madrid, Spain

2016-2020: Research Associate, at Department of Surgery and Cancer, Imperial College London, London, UK

2016 (3 months): Visiting Scientist, Department of Cancer Biology, Institute for Biomedical Research, Madrid, Spain

2014-2015: PhD Associate, at Centre for Stem Cells and Ageing, Barts Cancer Institute, London, UK

2010 (3 months): Visiting Undergraduate Student, Stem Cells & Cancer Group, CNIO, Madrid, Spain

2010( 3 months): Visiting Undergraduate Student, Institute for Medical Research, MMA, Belgrade, Serbia

Rayan Naser

Educational Profile

2019: PhD Biosciences (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology, Saudi Arabia)

2013: MSc Biology (American University of Beirut, Beirut, Lebanon)

2009: BSc Biology (Lebanese University, Beirut, Lebanon)

Professional Profile

2023-Present: CNIO

2021-2023: Post-doctoral fellow, LAU, Beirut, Lebanon

2013-2014: Research assistant, AUB, Beirut, Lebanon

2010-2014: Lab Instructor, AUB, Beirut, Lebanon


Born in Belgrade (Serbia), Sladjana obtained her bachelor degree in Molecular Biology at the University of Biology in Belgrade. Afterwards, she moved to Madrid where she obtained her Ph.D. in Molecular Biosciences in 2015 from the Autonomous University of Madrid (UAM), under the supervision of Prof. Christopher Heeschen (Spanish National Cancer Research Centre).  During her PhD, she studied the role of DNA methylation in stemness and tumorigenicity of pancreatic cancer stem cells. After the completion of her thesis work, in 2016, Sladjana moved to London, to the lab of Dr. Leandro Castellano at Imperial College London, where she continued to explore the epigenetic mechanisms in cancer stem cells, focusing on long non-coding RNAs in breast cancer.

In 2019, she was awarded the Marie-Curie Postdoctoral Fellowship and she returned to Madrid and CNIO. She joined the  Epithelial Carcinogenesis group where she studied the role of tumour microenvironment in pancreatic cancer subtype plasticity. In January 2022, she joined the Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group to work on heart regeneration and mechanisms of exercise benefits.

She loves sports, and she actively competes in mountain trail running, track and field. 

I am Rayan Naser, a researcher driven by the basic biological sciences. By conducting research, I aim to add to the basic knowledge of how our human bodies operate and how this information can help humanity get better cures. After receiving my master’s degree from the American University of Beirut, I obtained my PhD degree from KAUST, Saudi Arabia, and then had my first postdoc at the Lebanese American University in my hometown, Beirut. I now joined the Growth Factors, Nutrition, and Cancer group, CNIO, in 2023 with the objective of putting together my cellular, molecular, and structural biology skills to play a larger role in adding to basic biology knowledge. Despite that, I think it’s worth apologizing here for my Lebanese fellows that I won’t be a good representative Lebanese cook!

Graduate Students

Mariana Angulo

Educational Profile

2021-2023: MSc Epidemiology (Universidad del Rosario, Colombia)

2015-2021: MD Medical degree (Universidad del Rosario, Colombia)


Professional Profile

2022-present: PhD Student (CNIO)

2021-2022: Master Student (Universidad del Rosario)

2021-2022: Research assistant (Centro de Investigación en Genética y Genómica, Universidad del Rosario)

2020-2021: Internship (Centro de Investigación en Genética y Genómica, Universidad del Rosario)

2019-2020: Internship (Hospital Universitario Mayor – Méderi)

2016-2019: Research group student leader (Centro de Investigación en Genética y Genómica, Universidad del Rosario)

Rosa Gallo

Educational Profile

2018-2020: Master´s degree, Medical Biotechnologies (Universitá degli Studi di Napoli Federico II)

2015-2018: Bachelor degree, Biotechnology for health (Universitá degli Studi di Napoli Federico II)


Professional Profile

2021-present: PhD Student (CNIO)

2017-2020: Undergraduate Student Research (Department of molecular medicine and medical biotechnologies, Napoli)

Born in Cali, Colombia, Mariana obtained her Medical doctor degree at the Rosario University. During her degree elective rotations and part of her internship she focused in basic research and joined the Genetics and Genomic research center (CIGGUR). She collaborated in severals scientific research and performed as academic tutor helping students in different subjects related to this research field. She pursue her Master studies in Epidemiology and carried out her master thesis deciphering clinical and genetic factors associated with COVID-19 severity and Long-COVID. Mariana obtained a FPI-Severo Ochoa Predoctoral Fellowship (2021) and moved to Madrid to start her PhD in the Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group. She is delighted studying the immune landscape of Colorectal Cancer.

She loves hiking and travelling, enjoys the sunshine and warm weather. She also is a salsa dance lover, baby junior member of the lab’s Creativity & Innovation Committee.

Rosa was born in Naples, Italy. She obtained her bachelor’s degree in Biotechnology (2018) and master’s degree in Medical Biotechnology (2020) at the University of Naples Federico II. During her studies, she pursued an internship in the research group of Prof. Gabriella de Vita at the Department of Molecular Medicine and Medical Biotechnology in Italy, where she was investigating the roles of long-non coding RNAs in thyroid cancer. In 2021, she moved to Madrid to join the Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer group at CNIO as a PhD student. Rosa’s project aims to elucidate which inflammatory pathways and immune cells trigger inflammation in obesity. 

When she doesn’t take care of her fatty mice, Rosa loves eating at different restaurants (trying also to find a good Italian one), travelling, sightseeing and going shopping!

Carlos Martínez

Educational Profile

2020-2021: MSc Molecular Biomedicine (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

2016-2020: BSc Biochemistry (University of Aberdeen)


Professional Profile

2022-present: PhD Student (CNIO)

2021-2022: Master Student (IMDEA Nanoscience institute)

2020: Undergraduate Student (The Rowett Institute)

2018-2019: Undergraduate Research assistant (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

Irene Herranz

Educational Profile

2017-2019: MSc Bioinformatics and Computational Biology (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

2016-2017: MSc Biomolecules and Cell Dynamics (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

2012-2016: BSc Biochemistry (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)


Professional Profile

2018-present: PhD Student (CNIO)

2018: Erasmus Practice Student (MRC Cancer Unit, Cambridge, UK)

2016-2017: Master Student (CBMSO, Madrid)

2016: Erasmus Practice Student (MPI for Heart and Lung Research, Germany)

2015-2016: Undergraduate Student (CBMSO, Madrid)

Graduate Student

Born and raised in Madrid, Carlos obtained his degree in Biochemistry at the University of Aberdeen, where he obtained first class honours. During this time he carried out various research stays in the Universidad Complutense de Madrid and he completed his undergraduate thesis at the Rowett Institute, under Dr. Andreas Kolb. He returned to Madrid to pursue a master’s degree in Molecular Biomedicine at the Universidad Autónoma de Madrid, where he joined the Nanobiomedicine group of the IMDEA Nanoscience, led by Dr. Begoña Sot, to complete his master’s thesis. Carlos joined the Growth Factors, Nutrition and Cancer group in 2022, with the objective of characterizing the effects that dietary interventions have on metastases. When he is not busy feeding his mice, Carlos enjoys practicing different sports such as muay thai, weightlifting and running; he is also a keen fan of cinema, and a junior member of the lab’s Creativity & Innovation Committee.

Irene is a Biochemist holding Master’s studies in Biomolecules and Cell Dynamics, and Bioinformatics and Computational Biology, all by Universidad Autónoma de Madrid (UAM). Since early in her career, thanks to different competitive scholarships and grants, she has collaborated with various research groups in USA (Illinois Wesleyan University), Germany (Max Plank Institute for Heart and Lung Research), Cambridge (Medical Research Council Cancer Unit, UK) and Madrid (Centro de Biología Molecular Severo Ochoa), before starting her PhD at CNIO in 2018 thanks to an FPU fellowship. At the Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group she is mainly focused on studying colorectal cancer and intestinal diseases.

Although she is based in Madrid, she doesn’t miss a chance to go on adventures to explore the world – travel photography is her second passion!

Karla Santos

Educational Profile

2018-2019: MSc Molecular Biomedicine (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid)

2014-2018: BSc Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (Universidad del País Vasco)


Professional Profile

2020-present: PhD Student, CNIO (Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group)

2019-2020: Research Assistant, CIEMAT – Instituto de Investigación Hospital 12 de Octubre (i+12) (Molecular Oncology Group)

2017-2018: Undergraduate Student, CIC bioGUNE (Cancer Heterogeneity Lab)

2017 (2 months): Summer Visiting Undergraduate Student, CIC bioGUNE (Cancer Cell Signalling and Metabolism Lab)

María del Mar Rigual

Educational Profile

2018-2019: MSc Teaching training for Secondary Education (University of Sevilla)

2016-2018: MSc Health Biotechnology (University of Pablo de Olavide)

2012-2016: BSc Biology (University of Sevilla)


Professional Profile

2019-present: PhD student (CNIO)

2018-2019: Assistant Researcher (Instituto de Biomedicina de Sevilla, IBIS)

2018: Erasmus Practices Student (University of Birmingham)

2017-2018: Assistant Researcher (Andalusian centre of developmental biology, CABD)

2016-2017: Intern (Laboratory of in vitro fecundation, Serman clinic)

2016-2017: Intern (Bionaturis Company)

Born in Oñati (Gipuzkoa), Karla obtained her bachelor degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of the Basque Country (UPV-EHU). During this time, she joined the group of Dr. Arkaitz Carracedo at CIC bioGUNE to perform a summer research internship. She carried out her bachelor’s dissertation at the CIC bioGUNE under the supervision of María del Mar Vivanco. Afterwards, she moved to Madrid to pursue her Master studies in Molecular Biomedicine (Universidad Autónoma de Madrid) and joined Dr. Jesús Paramio’s group at CIEMAT to carried out her master thesis. On 2020, Karla joined the Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer Group and she obtained an AECC Predoctoral Fellowship (2021). The main objective of her project is to decipher the role of dormant cells in cancer relapse.

She loves cooking, reading and travelling, and she is always willing to make the most of creativity and
decorate the lab!

Mar was born in Sevilla. She obtained her bachelor degree in Biology at the University of Seville. During this time she trained on various biological and molecular techniques during summer internships at Bionaturis Company and Serman Clinic in Jerez de la Frontera. Her bachelor thesis, under the supervision of Dr. Beatriz Benítez Temiño described the role of the microglia in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. Afterwards, she developed her Master of Medical Biotechnology at Pablo de Olavide University. She worked at the Genetic department in the Centro Andaluz de Biología del Desarrollo under the supervision of Dr. Juan Jimenez and Dr. Andrés Garzón. Then, she moved to the Institute of Cancer and Genomic Science in Birmingham as part of an Erasmus+ grant to work in Dr Aga Gambus Lab. Mar returned to Sevilla joining to Infectious diseases department in Instituto de Biomedicina de Sevilla. Later on, Mar obtained a FPI-Severo Ochoa fellowship for pursuing her PhD at the Growth Factor, Nutrients and Cancer Group. Her goal is to understand better the molecular pathways related with liver regeneration.  

Mar likes reading, going out and cooking. Also, she is one of the creators of the Creativity and Innovation committee. In general, she is always ready to face new challenges!

Paula Sáchez

Educational Profile

2020-present MSc Bioinformatics and Biostatistics (Universitat Oberta de Catalunya)

2018-2019: MSc Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biomedicine (Universidad Complutense de Madrid)

2014-2018: BSc Biology (Universidad de Vigo)


Professional Profile

2019-present: PhD Student (CNIO, Madrid)

2018-2019: Master Student (CNB, Madrid)

2018 (2 months): Visiting Graduate Student (CNIC, Madrid)

2017-2018: Undergraduate Student (Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Immunology, Universidad de Vigo)

2017 (2 month): Visiting Undergraduate Student (Microbiological Services-Hospital Meixoeiro de Vigo)

Marta Benítez

Educational Profile

2019-2021: Advanced Degree of Pathology and cytodiagnostics (Claudio Galeno)

2019-2022: Degree of Clinical and Biomedical laboratory technician (Claudio Galeno)

2017-2018: 1º Bachillerato (Epiphany, North Carolina, United States)


Professional Profile

2023-Present: Lab Technician (CNIO)

2022-2023: Lab Technician (Biomaro-Labs)

2022 (3 months): Intership (Biomaro-Labs)

2020 (3 months): Intership (Hospital Universitario de Getafe)

Born in Vigo, Paula obtained her bachelor degree in Biology at the University of Vigo. During this time, through a student collaboration fellowship, she could join to the group of Dr. Diana Valverde at the Department of Biochemistry, Genetics and Immunology at the University of Vigo, where she carried out her bachelor’s dissertation about identification of genes associated with ciliopathies. After that, thanks to the CICERONE fellowship, she could collaborate in the group of Dr. Guadalupe Sabio at the Spanish National Cardiovascular Research Center (CNIC). Then, she moved to Madrid to start her master studies in Biochemistry, Molecular Biology, and Biomedicine at Complutense University of Madrid. She obtained a JAE-INTRO fellowship that allowed her to join to the group of Dr. Ana Cuenda Méndez at the Spanish National Centre for Biotechnology (CNB), where she developed her final master project focused on the role of alternative p38MAPKs in the interaction between microbiota-inflammation and colorectal cancer. Finally, thanks to a FPI fellowship, she started her PhD in Growth Factors, Nutrients and Cancer group to decipher the role of the bile acid-FXR axis in cirrhosis development.

Marta was born in Madrid. She got a scholarship to study 1º de bachillerato in North Carolina, USA. She obtained a Degree of Pathology and cytodiagnostics in 2020. She did an internship at Hospital Universitario de Getafe. She obtained the Degree of Clinical and Biomedical laboratory technician. She did an internship at Biomaro-labs. Afterwards she worked a year as a technician. Nowadays, She is working in the Growth Factors, nutrients and cancer at CNIO.

When she is not repeating genotyping, she likes doing sports as padel or swimming. She enjoys going to beach.

Training Activities since 2015

Sergio de la Rosa: “Role of URI during embryonic development”. Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. Searching for a PostDoc.

Tatiana Grazioso: ¨Unconventional therapies for cancer treatment¨ – Universidad Autónoma de MadridPostDoc with Dr. Jesus-Garcia Donas, HM Hospital, Madrid, Spain.

Amanda Garrido: “Role and functions of MCRS1 in liver disease” – Universidad Autónoma de MadridPostDoc with Dr. Rafael de Cabo, NIH, Baltimore, USA.

Ana Teijeiro García-Quijada: “Il-17A in obesity, metabolic syndrome and HCC” – Universidad Autónoma de MadridPostDoc with Dr. Yasmine Belkaid, NIH, Bethesda, USA.

Almudena Chaves: “Role of URI in intestinal homeostasis and radiation enteropathy” – Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. PostDoc with Dr. Scott Lowe, MMSK centre, NY, USA.

Marta Brandt: «Role of MCRS1 in Intestinal Homeostasis and Colorectal Cancer» – Universidad Autónoma de Madrid. PostDoc with Dr. Ramxic Xavier, Broad Institute, Boston.


Our work is funded by grants to N.D., supported by:

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