Natasa Pavlovic

My name is Natasa Pavlovic and I’m currently pursuing my PhD under the supervision of Professor Pär Gerwins, investigating the role of the tumor stroma in liver cancer. I completed my Bachelors in Biology and Masters in Animal physiology at the University of Belgrade in Serbia. My main interests have always been in the area of biomedical sciences.

Figure 1: the interplay between the fibrotic tumor environment and the tumor cells in hepatocellular carcinoma


My research project is about hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), a primary liver cancer. Because of the limited therapeutic options, it is currently ranked as the third leading cause of cancer-associated deaths in the western world. Most of the HCC cases occur in patients with an underlying liver disease, such as liver fibrosis, which can be caused by obesity, alcoholism and chronic hepatitis infections. Liver fibrosis is the formation of scar tissue in response to liver damage and a key cell type involved in this process is called the hepatic stellate cell. Hepatic stellate cells are a fibroblast-like cell type that gets activated during liver damage and they are known to create a fibrotic environment that is favorable for tumor growth. In our research group, we focus on the interplay between the fibrotic tumor environment and the tumor cells, with the overall aim to find new therapeutic targets for patients with HCC.

Figure 2: image of a 3D
spheroid consisting of tumor cells
and hepatic stellate cells stained
with antibodies against alpha-SMA
(Red) and CK19 (green)

To assess this, we use several in vitro and in vivo models that mimic liver fibrosis and HCC, and study different aspects of the tumor environment: fibroblast differentiation, extracellular matrix proteins, platelet aggregation and angiogenesis. Since our research focuses on the interaction between the stromal compartment and the tumor cells, we have set up several co-culturing systems that allow us to study cell interactions in a three dimensional environment. By using 3D culturing systems, we try to mimic several physiological traits of in vivo tumors, such as the overall morphology, the formation of cell–cell and cell-matrix contacts, resistance to chemotherapy and the presence of a hypoxic core.

For further information about this research project please contact Natasa Pavlovic