Cadherin cell-cell adhesion and tissue organisation in health and disease

The silent language of epithelial cells, and how deciphering it could explain cancer.

Our epithelial cells are our first line of defence. They form the tissue barriers of our bodies – a wall between the inside and the external environment. These cells are like warriors in an army. They work as a system, coordinating their behaviour, communicating amongst themselves to protect us from harm. In the process of warding off germs and toxic substances, cells become damaged. When they do, the other cells in the system eradicate the cell and continue their duty.

But sometimes the system breaks down. Diseases like breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer, and lung cancer are the result. In fact, the vast majority of solid tumours occur in epithelial tissues. How do these cells communicate? What are all the parts of the system? What are the critical functions that can’t be allowed to malfunction? And what happens when they do fail?

Cell biologist Professor Alpha Yap is leading a team of scientists to describe the epithelial system and learn the silent language of these microscopic warriors.

A potential cancer cell extruding from an epithelium. Image credit: Selwin Wu, Yap Lab

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Professor Alpha Yap

Group Leader, Cell Biology and Molecular Medicine Division

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