Research Group

Allavena Group

Cellular Immunology Lab

Allavena Group

Paola Allavena

Group leader

Our research group studies tumor-associated macrophages, cells of the innate immunity able to promote tumor progression, and investigates how these cells could be targeted or re-educated, paving the way to innovative therapeutic approaches to cancer.

The challenge

Macrophages are, to a varying extent, crucial components of the tumor microenvironment of virtually all types of cancer, and contribute to tumor progression at different levels: by sustaining genetic instability and nurturing cancer stem cells, by facilitating the metastatic process and by hindering adaptive immunity. Many strategies are currently under investigation to alter tumor-associated macrophage (TAM) recruitment or to rewire them towards antitumor behavior. Such TAM-focused therapeutic strategies have the potential to complement and synergize with both chemotherapy and immunotherapy, while, at the same time, TAM-dependent biomarkers could help us discriminate different patient/disease profiles and choose the most effective treatments.

Main research areas

Understanding tumor-associated macrophages

We study tumor-associated macrophages (TAMs): novel macrophage-derived products have been identified and are now investigated for their functional role on tumor cells. Examples include molecules inducing cancer cell motility and metastatic ability, as well as regulators of cancer cell stemness. Another research project concerns the role of macrophages at sites where tumor cells invade peripheral nerves and of the neuro-immune axis in the regulation of tumor growth.

Targeting tumor-associated macrophages

As macrophages are involved in several key steps of cancer progression, we developed strategies to target TAMs in pre-clinical therapeutic settings. These included, in the past, the direct depletion of TAMs with a registered chemotherapeutic agent: trabectedin, demonstrated to be selectively cytotoxic for monocytes-macrophages. More recently we are interested in novel nanotechnology approaches to target TAMs with functionalized, drug-loaded Nanoparticles.

Tumor biology and prognostic biomarkers

A main research line is the identification of immune-associated variables with clinical relevance in human tumors, such as pancreatic and colorectal cancers, liver metastases and mesothelioma. We analyze relevant bio-specimens, including tumor samples, blood and other fluids, to quantify immune cells and their products, including metabolites. The final goal is to identify markers associated with distinct clinical profiles and validate their usefulness for the early diagnosis and precision prognosis of tumors and their response to therapies.

Selected publications

Fernández-Mariño I
Drug Deliv Transl Res
Mannose-modified hyaluronic acid nanocapsules for the targeting of tumor-associated macrophages.
Erreni M
Size-advantage of monovalent nanobodies against the macrophage mannose receptor for deep tumor penetration and tumor-associated macrophage targeting.
Mantovani A
Nat Rev Drug Discov
Macrophages as tools and targets in cancer therapy.
Kamal MA
Cancers (Basel)
Oncogenic KRAS-Induced Protein Signature in the Tumor Secretome Identifies Laminin-C2 and Pentraxin-3 as Useful Biomarkers for the Early Diagnosis of Pancreatic Cancer.
Mannarino L
Int J Mol Sci
Epithelioid Pleural Mesothelioma Is Characterized by Tertiary Lymphoid Structures in Long Survivors: Results from the MATCH Study.
Allavena P
Front Oncol
Effects of the Anti-Tumor Agents Trabectedin and Lurbinectedin on Immune Cells of the Tumor Microenvironment.
Belgiovine C
Eur J Immunol
Inhibition of tumor-associated macrophages by trabectedin improves the antitumor adaptive immunity in response to anti-PD-1 therapy.
Anfray C
J Immunother Cancer
Intratumoral combination therapy with poly(I:C) and resiquimod synergistically triggers tumor-associated macrophages for effective systemic antitumoral immunity.
Allavena P
Clin Cancer Res
Therapeutic Manipulation of Tumor-associated Macrophages: Facts and Hopes from a Clinical and Translational Perspective.
Liguori M
Cell Mol Immunol
The soluble glycoprotein NMB (GPNMB) produced by macrophages induces cancer stemness and metastasis via CD44 and IL-33.
Digifico E
Cancers (Basel)
Optimization of a Luciferase-Expressing Non-Invasive Intrapleural Model of Malignant Mesothelioma in Immunocompetent Mice.
Dacoba TG
Front Immunol
Arginine-Based Poly(I:C)-Loaded Nanocomplexes for the Polarization of Macrophages Toward M1-Antitumoral Effectors.
Andón FT
Semin Immunol
Targeting tumor associated macrophages: The new challenge for nanomedicine.
Siddiqui I
Differential role of Interleukin-1 and Interleukin-6 in K-Ras-driven pancreatic carcinoma undergoing mesenchymal transition.
Belgiovine C
Br J Cancer
Lurbinectedin reduces tumour-associated macrophages and the inflammatory tumour microenvironment in preclinical models.
Marelli G
Cancer Res
Heme-oxygenase-1 Production by Intestinal CX3CR1(+) Macrophages Helps to Resolve Inflammation and Prevents Carcinogenesis.
Mantovani A
Nat Rev Clin Oncol
Tumour-associated macrophages as treatment targets in oncology.
Siddiqui I
J Immunother Cancer
Enhanced recruitment of genetically modified CX3CR1-positive human T cells into Fractalkine/CX3CL1 expressing tumors: importance of the chemokine gradient.
Germano G
Cancer Cell
Role of macrophage targeting in the antitumor activity of trabectedin.

Group members

Allavena Group
Paola Allavena

Group leader

Allavena Group
Clément Anfray

Postdoc Fellow

Allavena Group
Marialuisa Barbagallo

Postdoc Fellow

Allavena Group
Nina Cortese

Postdoc Fellow

Allavena Group
Alba Lopez Pensaldo


Allavena Group
Federica Marchesi

Senior Researcher

Allavena Group
Rebecca Polidori

Imaging Analyst

Allavena Group
Anna Rita Putignano


Allavena Group
Aldo Ummarino

PhD Student