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Catarina Brito Lab

Animal Cell Technology Unit


Our research is mostly translational, focused on understanding the impact of cellular microenvironment on disease progression & therapeutic response, in Cancer & Central Nervous System diseases. We develop and employ cell-based disease models, exploring 3D culture strategies for patient-derived cells and interrogate them using cell biology and biochemistry approaches and omics tools.



Catarina Brito
Investigadora Auxiliar, iBET
PhD in Biochemistry, 2007, ITQB NOVA

Phone (+351) 214469434
Extension 1434


Research Interests

As befits a technological area, the Advanced Cell Models Laboratory is integrated in the Animal Cell Technology Unit, where a number of knowledge competences are balanced.

Our research is mostly translational, focused on the study of cellular microenvironment in disease progression and therapeutic response. The major challenge in studying these mechanisms is the lack of human cell models in which the different contributing cell types are represented and the dynamics of the cellular and extracellular spaces recapitulated along time. To overcome these challenges we develop innovative disease cell models by applying advanced cell culture approaches (3D culture, co-culture, cell immobilization) and systems (bioreactors) to human stem cells and other patient-derived cells. By challenging these models with therapeutic agents and integrating biochemical, cell imaging and omics approaches we are moving towards the definition of the role of the microenvironment to therapeutic response. We aim at the identification of novel molecular players potentially involved in therapeutic response, towards novel biomarkers or therapeutic targets.

Cancer Cell Models: we have been developing cell models in which tumor-stromal crosstalk and disease progression events are recapitulated, with epithelial tumor cells surrounded by fibroblasts and immune cells, and deposition of secreted factors and extracellular matrix components. Recently, within the scope of iNOVA4Health, we are developing ex-vivo models by implementing long-term cultures of tumor explants, focusing on colorectal, ovarian and breast cancer.

Neural Cell Models: we are applying patient-derived 3D neural cell models to explore the influence of extracellular space defects in mechanisms involved in disease progression, leading to neuronal and synaptic functional impairment and neurodegeneration. We employ induced pluripotent stem cell (iPSC) technology and of a novel culture strategy for 3D neural differentiation of human neural stem cells (hNSC) into neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, recently develop by us.


Group Members

  • Vitor Espírito Santo, PhD, Researcher
  • Daniel Simão, PhD, Post-doc
  • Inês Figueira, PhD Student (co-supervision with Cláudia Santos, iBET/ITQB-NOVA)
  • Marta Estrada, PhD Student
  • Ana Paula Terrasso, PhD Student (co-supervised by Cláudia Almeida, CEDOC)
  • Ana Catarina Pinto, PhD Student (co-supervision with Paula M Alves, iBET/ITQB-NOVA)
  • Sofia Abreu, PhD Student (co-supervision with Vitor Espírito Santo)
  • Ana Luísa Cartaxo, PhD Student
  • Francisca Arez, MSc
  • Tatiana Martins, MSc
  • Teresa Mendes, MSc
  • Marta Teixeira, MSc Student


Selected Publications

  1. Santo VE, Rebelo SP, Estrada MF, Alves PM, Boghaert E, Brito C (2017) “Drug screening in 3D in vitro tumor models: overcoming current pitfalls of efficacy read-outs”, Biotechnology Journal 12.    
  2. Estrada MF, Rebelo SP, Davies EJ, Pinto MT, Pereira H, Santo VE, Smalley MJ, Barry ST, Gualda EJ, Alves PM Anderson E, Brito C (2016) Modelling the tumour microenvironment on long-term microencapsulation 3D co-cultures recapitulates phenotypic features of disease progression, Biomaterials 78, 50-61.

  3. Gualda EJ, Simão D, Pinto C, Alves PM, Brito C (2014) “Imaging of human differentiated 3D neural aggregates using Light Sheet Fluorescence Microscopy”, Frontiers in Cellular Neuroscience, 8:221.          

Laboratory's Website

For further information please visit the ACT webpage


Laboratório de Modelos Celulares Avançados (PT)

A nossa investigação é essencialmente translacional, centrada no estudo do microambiente celular na progressão de doenças do Sistema Nervoso Central e Cancro, bem como na resposta à terapêutica. Para responder a estas questões, recorremos a modelos celulares avançados de doença, baseados em células estaminais e/ou outras células derivadas de pacientes, explorando estratégias de cultura celular tridimensional. Combinamos metodologias de biologia celular, bioquímica, microscopia e proteómica para caracterizar os modelos desenvolvidos. Temos como objectivo final a identificação de moléculas envolvidas na progressão das doenças e na resposta aos agentes terapêuticos, que possam funcionar como marcadores moleculares de doença ou potenciais alvos terapêuticos.


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