Photo of Dr Marisa Merino

Dr Marisa Merino BSc, MSc, PhD

Lecturer and Research Group Leader Molecular & Clinical Cancer Medicine


Personal Statement

I have always been passionate to understand how cells within tissues communicate to build up successful organisms. Indeed, my work shows for the first time that, Cell Competition is a physiological mechanism (Merino et al. 2013, Current Biology) which controls organismal lifespan (Merino et al. 2015, Cell & Merino et al. 2016, Trends in Cell Biology).

The difference between unfit and fit cells can be encoded by different levels of Dpp signalling. In the wing of flies and the pectoral fin of fish, the decay length (i.e. how far the morphogen reaches) of these morphogen gradients (Dpp and BMP) is proportional to the length of the growing tissue during development, namely they scale. Different levels of Dpp signalling are reminiscent of the steepness of the gradient that is-its decay length. In my recent work (Merino et al. 2022, Nature Cell Biology & Merino et al. 2022, Trends in Cell Biology). I have made a discovery of a novel phenomenon, Death-Mediated Scaling: the scaling of TGF-beta type growth factors (i.e. Dpp morphogen) is mediated also by Cell Death. On the other hand, disrupted TGF-beta signalling is one of the most common causes of tumorigenesis.

Death-mediated scaling machinery might provide a molecular toolbox exploited by cancer cells.

Prizes or Honours

  • Winner of The Node Image Contest. (The Node: Cambridge., 2019)
  • Winner of the Cell Image Contest. (HEALTH LIFE SCIENCES: New York., 2018)
  • Nikon Imaging Competition winner (Nikon (Geneva)., 2016)
  • "Lutz Zwillenberg PhD prize" (University of Bern, 2015)
  • PhD, publication evaluated as exceptional by F1000 (Faculty of 1000 (United States), 2015)

Funded Fellowships

  • Key Roles of Cell Competition: from development and aging to tumour formation. (Declined) (Ministerio de Ciencia e Innovación (Madrid, ES), 2024)
  • Morphogen gradient scaling by Death-mediated Cell Competition (Novartis Foundation, 2019 - 2020)
  • Dynamics of Morphogen Scaling during Growth - Project Extension (Swiss National Foundation - Systems X, 2016 - 2017)
  • Dynamics of Morphogen Scaling during Growth (Swiss National Foundation - Systems X, 2014 - 2016)