Research Centers


Iliopoulos Lab

Research topics include; biology of tumor suppressor genes and tumor angiogenesis

Othon Iliopoulos, MD
Clinical Director
von Hippel-Lindau Disease/Familial Renal Cell Cancer Program, Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center

Associate Professor of Medicine
Harvard Medical School

Research Summary

The Iliopoulos laboratory works on understanding the biochemical mechanisms of cancer angiogenesis and cancer metabolism in order to identify and validate new targets for anticancer drug development.  Cancer cells need oxygen and nutrients to survive, grow and metastasize. To meet these needs, tumor cells activate a sophisticated program known as cancer angiogenesis to stimulate the growth of surrounding blood vessels. In addition, they reshape their metabolic requirement so that they outcompete the normal cells in growth. Our research program focuses on understanding the differences between cancer-induced blood vessels and those that feed normal tissues. We are also exploring the molecular mechanisms through which cancer cells reconfigure their metabolism to outcompete normal cells for life-sustaining nutrients; this work has the potential to lead to new targets for drug discovery.

Read the Iliopoulos Lab's Annual Report in Full

Othon Iliopoulos, MD
Principal InvestigatorGroup Members

  • Othon Iliopoulos, MD, PhD
  • Laura Laviolette, PhD
  • Ana Metelo, MS*
  • Haley Noonan, MS
  • Arimichi Okazaski, PhD 
  • Meike Schneider, MD

 *PhD Candidates

Research Projects

Biology of Tumor Angiogenesis and Tumor Metabolism
Our laboratory is interested in tumor angiogenesis and tumor metabolism. Our current studies utilize biochemical, cellular and genetic approaches to dissect the mechanisms by which eukaryotic cells—both normal and neoplastic—sense and respond to hypoxia.
Hypoxia activates several intracellular signaling pathways, leading to secretion of growth and angiogenic factors and to dramatic metabolic changes. Cellular hypoxia activates a family of transcription factors termed hypoxia inducible factors (HIFs). HIF signaling is also directly activated and co-opted by any tumor-initiating mutation. HIF is a powerful regulator of cancer angiogenesis, carbon and lipid metabolism, stem cell proliferation, and tissue differentiation. Inhibition of HIF in preclinical animal models leads to cancer suppression. Levels of HIF expression in human solid and hematologic malignancies have strong prognostic value.
Detailed understanding of the molecular events that regulate cancer angiogenesis and metabolism will lead to rational selection of molecular targets for anticancer drug development.

Discovery and Development of Hypoxia Inducible Factor 2a (HIF2a) inhibitorsExpression of Hypoxia Inducible Factor HIF2a rewires the central carbon metabolism in renal cell cancer
We have identified small molecules that repress HIF translation in a highly specific way by targeting a bifunctional protein that serves either as an mRNA binding protein (i.e., iron regulatory protein 1, or IRP1) or as a cytosolic enzyme of intermediary metabolism (i.e., aconitase 1, ACO1). These molecules are active in vivo and synergistically inhibit all downstream targets of HIF, thereby negatively impacting angiogenesis and tumor metabolism.  We are currently using these HIF inhibitors as chemical biology tools to analyze HIF signaling and its effect on metabolism. In parallel studies, we are testing their anticancer function in preclinical experiments.
Genetic Studies on VHL-HIF-Hypoxia Pathway
The Hypoxia-HIF-VHL pathway is remarkably conserved between Drosophila and mammalian cells. We use Drosophila genetics to identify genes modifying the hypoxia-VHL-HIF pathway. We developed a Drosophila model for VHL disease and HIF activation and are using this model to identify second-site modifiers of Sima and dVHL functions.
Biomarkers for Early Identification of Renal Cell Carcinoma (RCC)
Loss of VHL function and upregulation of HIF activity is a hallmark of human RCC. We combined analysis of HIF-activated genes and signaling pathways specifically deregulated in RCC with proteomic analysis of patient-derived plasma and tumor samples, and we identified a set of candidate RCC biomarkers. In addition, we have developed assays to measure the expression of these biomarkers in patient blood. These biomarkers can serve for early identification of RCC and as surrogate markers for disease activity in patients enrolled in clinical trials.


Research Positions

Postdoctoral Position (1)

Postdoctoral positions are now available in the laboratory of Othon Iliopoulos, MD, at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center and Harvard Medical School. The laboratory studies the regulation of hypoxia signaling and cancer angiogenesis by tumor suppressor genes. We are particularly interested in the Hypoxia-HIF-VHL signaling pathway. We are using cellular, biochemical and genetic approaches to dissect this pathway and to identify and validate molecular targets for drug development. Our laboratory is part of the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center, a state of the art, highly interactive, research facility. PhD and/or MD candidates should be motivated individuals, committed to biomedical research, with experience in molecular biology and/or Drosophila genetics.


Please send CV and contact information for three references to:

Othon Iliopoulos, MD,
Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center
55 Fruit Street GRJ-904B
Boston, MA 02114

Iliopoulos Laboratory

55 Fruit Street
Boston, MA 02114

Phone: 617-724-3404