Spotlight: Dr Ainhoa Mielgo

Posted on: 18 May 2023 by Louise Colley in May 2023 posts

This edition of Spotlight focusses on Dr Ainhoa Mielgo, a Reader in the Department of Molecular and Clinical Cancer Medicine. Ainhoa joined the University of Liverpool in 2013 as a Wellcome Trust Sir Henry Dale Fellow, when she established her independent research group, which focusses on the tumour microenvironment.

The challenge

Tumours are not just comprised of tumour cells and instead are surrounded by non-cancerous cells called stromal cells. This is particularly the case for solid tumours, e.g. pancreatic, breast, colorectal tumours. Stromal cells can include immune cells and fibroblasts and form what is called the tumour stroma. These stromal cells can either inhibit or support tumour progression but the mechanisms by which stromal cells support cancer progression are not completely understood.

Research and teaching

Dr Mielgo’s research focusses on understanding how tumour-stroma interactions affect cancer progression and resistance to drug treatments. The aim of her team is to identify more effective combination therapies that can target both the tumour cells and tumour supporting functions of the tumour stroma.

Her research is funded by North West Cancer Research.  She was recently awarded a translational research grant to investigate how chemotherapy affects the function of immune cells in pancreatic cancer patients. Addressing this knowledge gap may allow Ainhoa's team to harness the immune response against pancreatic cancer and to find more effective treatments for this devastating disease.

Ainhoa leads the MSc Cancer Biology and Therapy programme, which was launched in 2021. The MSc team was one of the recipients of the annual Dean's Excellence Awards for Teaching.  Ainhoa also supervises several postgraduate students.


The Tumour Microenvironment research lab was the first in the Institute and second in the Faculty to be awarded Silver accreditation in the Laboratory Efficiency Assessment Framework (LEAF).

Ainhoa commented “As responsible researchers, we must find the most sustainable possible way to do research. Research is essential but it should not cost the Earth. LEAF is a user-friendly green initiative that was created to guide researchers in implementing more sustainable practices in their labs. I’m proud we can contribute by reducing our carbon emissions and creating an environment that supports research quality.”

Members of the Tumour Microenvironment Lab with their Silver LEAF award