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Catarina Brito Lab

Animal Cell Technology Unit


Our research is mostly translational and focused on the study of cellular microenvironment in disease progression and therapeutic response. To address these questions we develop and employ advanced cell-based disease models, using stem cells and other patient-derived cell and exploring three-dimensional culture strategies, along with cell biology and biochemistry approaches. Our projects address several neurological pathologies and cancer.

Catarina Brito
Investigadora Principal
PhD 2007 in Biochemistry, ITQB-NOVA

Phone (+351) 214469434 | Extension 1434
Email | Short CV

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.

At the Advanced Cell Models Lab our research is mostly translational and focused on the study of cellular microenvironment in disease progression and therapeutic response. The major challenge in studying the underlying 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 without the confounding effects of heterologous ECM and soluble factors. To overcome these challenges we develop innovative disease cell models by applying advanced cell culture approaches (namely 3D culture, co-culture and cell immobilization) and systems (bioreactors) to human stem cells and other patient-derived cells. By integrating cell biology, biochemical, imaging, transcriptomics and proteomics approaches we can depict the dynamic modulation of a specific cell microenvironment along time or in response to a therapeutic challenge. We aim at the identification of novel molecular players potentially involved in disease progression and therapeutic response, towards novel disease biomarkers or therapeutic targets.


There are two the main research lines in the lab. One aims at exploring the influence of extracellular space defects in neuronal function and its contribution to neuronal and synaptic functional impairment and neurodegeneration. Our neurospheroid models are based on 3D differentiation of human induced pluripotent stem cells (hiPSC) in perfusion stirred tank bioreactors, and long-term culture to attain. Neurospheroids are composed by functional neurons, astrocytes and oligodendrocytes, embedded in an extracellular matrix secreted and accumulated along differentiation. This homologous ECM presents specific features of human neural tissue ECM. We are currently applying the neurospheroid model to address molecular defects in cell-ECM interactions associated with Traumatic Brain Injury and to Mucopolysaccharidosis type VII (MPS VII), a lysosomal storage disease caused by deficient β-glucuronidase (β-gluc) activity, which leads to accumulation of glycosaminoglycans (GAGs) in many tissues, including the brain.

The second research line is focused on the influence of cancer microenvironment in the response to targeted therapies, including resistance. In our 3D-3-cultures (co-cultures of tumour cell spheroids, fibroblasts and monocytes), the hallmarks of immunosuppressive carcinoma microenvironments are recapitulated. There is accumulation of cytokines, ECM and metalloproteinases, with infiltration of macrophages in the tumour mass and trans-polarization into M2-like phenotypes. Challenging of the system with previously validated compounds could induce repolarization into an M1-like phenotype. Currently we are exploring the 3D-3-culture models to dissect tumour-macrophage crosstalk in specific cancer contexts. Under the umbrella of the iNOVA4Health research unit, we are developing ex-vivo models, based on patient material – explants. In our long-term cultures, explants retain the architecture, cellular composition and functional aspects of colorectal, ovarian and breast tumour samples and are being explored for its potential for prediction of therapeutic response.


Group Members

  • Catarina Brito, PhD, Head of Lab
  • Ana Paula Terrasso, PhD, Researcher
  • Giacomo Domenici, PhD, Post-doctoral Fellow
  • Sofia Abreu, PhD Student
  • Ana Luísa Cartaxo, PhD Student (co-supervised by Dr Inês Pires da Silva; Melanoma Institute Australia and Sydney University)
  • Teresa Mendes, PhD Student (co-supervised by Dr Isadora Rosa, IPOLFG, Lisbon)
  • Ana Sofia Batalha, PhD Student (co-supervised by Dr Inês Pires da Silva; Melanoma Institute Australia and Sydney University)
  • Nuno Lopes, MSc
  • Beatriz Painho, MSc Student
  • Rodrigo Eduardo, MSc Student (co-supervised by Dr Branca Cavaco, IPOLFG, Lisbon)


Selected Publications

  1. Simão D, Silva MM, Terrasso AP, Arez F, Sousa MFQ, Mehrjardi NZ, Šarić T, Gomes-Alves P, Raimundo N, Alves PM, Brito C (2018) “Human neural microenvironment specific features are promoted by 3D differentiation of iPSC-derived NPC”, Stem Cell Reports 11, 552-564.

  2. Rebelo S, Pinto C, Martins TR, Harrer N, Estrada MF, Loza-Alvarez P, Cabeçadas J, Alves PM, Gualda E, Sommergruber W, Brito C (2018) “3D-3-culture: a tool to unveil macrophage plasticity in the tumour microenvironment”, Biomaterials, 163, 185-197.

  3. 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.


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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