Oncology and Pathology

Faculty of Medicine | Lund University


Translational Oncogenomics


Breast cancer is one of the most common malignancies affecting women with over 1.3 million new diagnoses and 500,000 deaths per year worldwide. It is a highly heterogeneous disease with widely varying prognosis and response to therapy: some women could be cured by surgery alone whereas others quickly succumb to the disease despite our most advanced medical treatment.

This is because, at the molecular level, each breast cancer is unique, harboring its own specific configuration of gene/genomic/epigenetic aberrations and gene expression changes. These alterations are thought to impinge upon an array of possible oncogene/tumor suppressor pathways, which in aggregate, allow the tumor cells to overcome built-in cellular defense mechanisms and, at the same time, enable new physiologic capabilities that define malignancy.

However, it is still far from understood how specific genetic alterations, patterns of mutations, and the resultant activation of particular pathways contribute to breast cancer diversity, tumor aggressivity, or to therapeutic sensitivity and resistance. Moreover, a major challenge in cancer research is how to capitalize on the aberrations which the tumor depends on for survival and convert these aberrations into molecular "Achilles’ heels" that can be targeted pharmacologically.


My research as well as the work of others has highlighted the role of the PTEN/PI3K/AKT pathway as a key promotor of tumorigenesis and as a target for therapeutic modulation. With a particular interest in this pathway, my research applies recent advances in genome-wide technologies to study breast cancer biology with the goal of translating our findings into new clinical applications. We are also investigating the clinical utility of monitoring circulating tumor DNA (ctDNA) in cancer patients. Specifically, we aim to:

  1. Discover the patterns of gene mutation, genomic aberrations, and gene expression changes within human breast tumors
  2. Ascertain the utility of circulating tumor DNA by “liquid biopsy” as a robust cancer biomarker
  3. Understand the relationship of these aberration patterns to clinicopathological parameters such as patient survival
  4. Study the functional significance of identified aberrations in model systems
  5. Utilize this "-omic" information to design and test rational combinatorial therapeutics that target more specifically the actual cancer mutations and pathways that are active in a individual patient's tumor
  6. Validate and translate to the clinic new biomarker diagnostic assays for selection of optimal therapy and monitoring residual disease and response to therapy
  7. Develop core bioresources and technology/bioinformatics infrastructure

Our research is facilitated by close cooperation with fellow research units of the Canceromics Branch and Division of Oncology and Pathology, collaborations internationally, partnership with clinical oncologists, surgeons, and pathologists, and participation as one of the principal executors of the Sweden Canceromics Analysis Network - Breast (SCAN-B) Initiative.

Recent News

  • 2017 July 4: Lao gives live TV interview on BBC World News (3-minute video) to speak about Sweden's SCAN-B and UK Chief Medical Officer Dame Professor Sally Davies' "genomic dream" initiative.
  • 2017 May 8: Collaborative study on p53's role in basal expression of TSGs, together with the Parsons' lab at Mount Sinai, published in Molecular Cancer Research.
  • 2017 Apr 25: Lao has been promoted to Associate Professor in Experimental Oncology (title of docent) by the Medical Faculty of Lund University.
  • 2017 Mar 24: Collaborative work with the Jönsson group on targeted sequencing of NF1-mutant melanoma published in Molecular Oncology.
  • 2017 Jan 24: Study of efficacy versus effectiveness of clinical genetic testing for BRCA genes published in Familial Cancer.
  • 2016 Dec 9: International inter-laboratory KRAS mutation analysis published in Analytical Chemistry. We are laboratory #12, and demonstrated top marks for accuracy, reproducibility, and minimal variability.
  • 2016 Nov 17: Lao awarded renewed Swedish Cancer Society 3-Year Project Grant.
  • 2016 Oct 27: Lao awarded prestigious Swedish Research Council 4-Year Project Grant.
  • 2016 Oct 26: Loman and Saal commentary on circulating tumor DNA liquid biopsies in breast cancer published in Annals of Translational Medicine (open access).
  • 2016 Aug 2: Group's paper on synergistic targeting of EGFR and PTEN/PI3K in basal-like breast cancer published in BMC Cancer (open access).
  • 2016 Aug 1: Our NGS/ddPCR research highlighted in Genetic Engineering and Biotechnology News magazine.
  • 2016 May 18: Group's paper on somatic and germline BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in breast tumors published in Annals of Oncology (open access).
  • 2016 May 4: Group's paper on bioinformatics software for RNA-sequencing data processing published in BMC Bioinformatics (open access).
  • 2016 Feb 11: Lao awarded STINT Joint Japan-Sweden Research Collaboration grant.
  • 2015 Nov 18: Lao awarded VINNOVA Verifiering grant.
  • 2015 Oct 21: Lao presents at the 3rd qPCR and Digital PCR Congress, London, England.
  • 2015 Aug 25: Swedish National TV4 broadcast of interview with Lao Saal (3 minute clip, English with Swedish subtitles).
  • 2015 Aug 15: Group's paper on PTEN and NEDD4 in breast cancer published in Pathology & Oncology Research (open access).
  • 2015 Jun 29: Lao presents at the Personalised Medicine conference, Embassy of Sweden in Tokyo, Japan.
  • 2015 Jun 11: Lao awarded major grants from VINNOVA SWElife and Berta Kamprad Foundation.
  • 2015 May 18: Circulating tumor DNA paper published in EMBO Molecular Medicine (open access) (cover article). Notable mentions in other media: GenomeWeb, ScienceDaily, RD Magazine, Läkartidningen, Forskning.se, Medicinsk Access, and Sydsvenskan, among others.
  • 2015 Feb 2: SCAN-B paper published in Genome Medicine (open access).



lao saal

Lao Saal, M.D., Ph.D.
Head, Translational Oncogenomics Unit
Associate Professor
Phone: +46 46 2220365
Fax: +46 46 147327
E-mail: lao.saal@med.lu.se
Twitter: @LaoSaal

Mailing address:

 Division of Oncology and Pathology
 Medicon Village 404-B2, Hs. 90
 Lund University
 SE-223 81, Lund, Sweden

Visiting address:

 Building 404, Floor B2
 Medicon Village
 Scheelevägen 2



  • Ph.D., Columbia University, New York 2007
  • M.D., Columbia University, New York 2008
  • Docent, Lund University, Sweden 2017
  • 42 publications, >7100 citations


  • Swedish Research Council (VR): Project (2017-2020)
  • Swedish Cancer Society: Young Investigator Award (2010-2016)
  • Swedish Cancer Society: Project (2017-2019)
  • VINNOVA: VinnVerifiering (2016-2017)
  • VINNOVA: SWElife (2015-2016)
  • STINT: Japan-Sweden Collaboration (2016-2017)
  • Governmental Funding of Clinical Research within National Health Service (ALF)
  • Berta Kamprad Foundation
  • Gunnar Nilsson Cancer Foundation

Site overview