Dr Sara G.M. Piccirillo


Although brain tumors account for less than 2% of all primary tumors they are responsible for 7% of the years of life lost from cancer. The commonest class of brain tumors in adults are astrocytomas and the commonest astrocytoma is the highly malignant glioblastoma (GBM) which accounts for over 60% of glial tumors. Life expectancy in optimally managed patients is 12-14 months with only 25% surviving 24 months. GBM is extremely infiltrating and heterogeneous at histological and cellular level.

In the last years advances in stem cell research have demonstrated the existence of tumor stem-like cells (TSCs) in non-solid and solid tumors. Accordingly, TSCs have been found in human GBM. This provides the unprecedented opportunity to collect information regarding the molecular, cellular and histological features associated with GBM development.

The aim of my research is to understand how TSCs are distributed within an individual GBM and how they contribute to the heterogeneity of this tumor.

Research Focus


brain tumors

stem cells


Clinical conditions



Cell culture

Cell transplantation

Confocal microscopy

Expression profiling

Fluorescence microscopy



RNA Interference



Yan Yan Shery Huang

Simon Tavare'

United Kingdom

Mel Greaves

Associated News Items

    Key publications

    Piccirillo SG, Colman S, Potter NE, van Delft FW, Lillis S, Carnicer MJ, Kearney L, Watts C, Greaves M (2015), “Genetic and functional diversity of propagating cells in glioblastoma.” Stem Cell Reports 4(1):7-15 Details

    Piccirillo SG, Spiteri I, Sottoriva A, Touloumis A, Ber S, Price SJ, Heywood R, Francis NJ, Howarth KD, Collins VP, Venkitaraman AR, Curtis C, Marioni JC, Tavaré S, Watts C (2015), “Contributions to drug resistance in glioblastoma derived from malignant cells in the sub-ependymal zone.” Cancer Res 75(1):194-202 Details

    Piccirillo SG, Dietz S, Madhu B, Griffiths J, Price SJ, Collins VP, Watts C (2012), “Fluorescence-guided surgical sampling of glioblastoma identifies phenotypically distinct tumour-initiating cell populations in the tumour mass and margin.” Br J Cancer 107(3):462-8 Details

    Piccirillo SG, Combi R, Cajola L, Patrizi A, Redaelli S, Bentivegna A, Baronchelli S, Maira G, Pollo B, Mangiola A, DiMeco F, Dalprà L, Vescovi AL (2009), “Distinct pools of cancer stem-like cells coexist within human glioblastomas and display different tumorigenicity and independent genomic evolution.” Oncogene 28(15):1807-11 Details

    Piccirillo SG, Reynolds BA, Zanetti N, Lamorte G, Binda E, Broggi G, Brem H, Olivi A, Dimeco F, Vescovi AL (2006), “Bone morphogenetic proteins inhibit the tumorigenic potential of human brain tumour-initiating cells.” Nature 444(7120):761-5 Details



    Kenney-Herbert E, Al-Mayhani T, Piccirillo SG, Fowler J, Spiteri I, Jones P, Watts C (2015), “CD15 Expression Does Not Identify a Phenotypically or Genetically Distinct Glioblastoma Population.” Stem Cells Transl Med 4(7):822-31 Details

    Piccirillo SGM*, Spiteri I. * corresponding author (2015), “Intratumor heterogeneity and transcriptional profiling in glioblastoma: translational opportunities. ” Future Neurology 10(4): 369-381


    Mashimo T, Pichumani K, Vemireddy V, Hatanpaa KJ, Singh DK, Sirasanagandla S, Nannepaga S, Piccirillo SG, Kovacs Z, Foong C, Huang Z, Barnett S, Mickey BE, DeBerardinis RJ, Tu BP, Maher EA, Bachoo RM (2014), “Acetate is a bioenergetic substrate for human glioblastoma and brain metastases.” Cell 159(7):1603-14 Details

    Setua S, Ouberai M, Piccirillo SG, Watts C, Welland M (2014), “Cisplatin-tethered gold nanospheres for multimodal chemo-radiotherapy of glioblastoma.” Nanoscale 6(18):10865-73 Details


    Binder ZA, Siu IM, Eberhart CG, Ap Rhys C, Bai RY, Staedtke V, Zhang H, Smoll NR, Piantadosi S, Piccirillo SG, Dimeco F, Weingart JD, Vescovi A, Olivi A, Riggins GJ, Gallia GL (2013), “Podocalyxin-like protein is expressed in glioblastoma multiforme stem-like cells and is associated with poor outcome.” PLoS One 8(10):e75945 Details

    Sottoriva A, Spiteri I, Piccirillo SG, Touloumis A, Collins VP, Marioni JC, Curtis C, Watts C, Tavaré S (2013), “Intratumor heterogeneity in human glioblastoma reflects cancer evolutionary dynamics.” Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 110(10):4009-14 Details


    Heywood RM, Marcus HJ, Ryan DJ, Piccirillo SG, Al-Mayhani TM, Watts C (2012), “A review of the role of stem cells in the development and treatment of glioma.” Acta Neurochir (Wien) 154(6):951-69; discussion 969 Details


    Al-Mayhani MT, Grenfell R, Narita M, Piccirillo S, Kenney-Herbert E, Fawcett JW, Collins VP, Ichimura K, Watts C (2011), “NG2 expression in glioblastoma identifies an actively proliferating population with an aggressive molecular signature.” Neuro Oncol 13(8):830-45 Details


    Fan X, Khaki L, Zhu TS, Soules ME, Talsma CE, Gul N, Koh C, Zhang J, Li YM, Maciaczyk J, Nikkhah G, Dimeco F, Piccirillo S, Vescovi AL, Eberhart CG (2010), “NOTCH pathway blockade depletes CD133-positive glioblastoma cells and inhibits growth of tumor neurospheres and xenografts.” Stem Cells 28(1):5-16 Details


    Loilome W, Joshi AD, ap Rhys CM, Piccirillo S, Angelo VL, Gallia GL, Riggins GJ (2009), “Glioblastoma cell growth is suppressed by disruption of Fibroblast Growth Factor pathway signaling.” J Neurooncol 94(3):359-66 Details

    Piccirillo SG, Binda E, Fiocco R, Vescovi AL, Shah K (2009), “Brain cancer stem cells.” J Mol Med 87(11):1087-95 Details

    Sun P, Xia S, Lal B, Eberhart CG, Quinones-Hinojosa A, Maciaczyk J, Matsui W, Dimeco F, Piccirillo SM, Vescovi AL, Laterra J (2009), “DNER, an epigenetically modulated gene, regulates glioblastoma-derived neurosphere cell differentiation and tumor propagation.” Stem Cells 27(7):1473-86 Details


    Bar EE, Chaudhry A, Lin A, Fan X, Schreck K, Matsui W, Piccirillo S, Vescovi AL, DiMeco F, Olivi A, Eberhart CG (2007), “Cyclopamine-mediated hedgehog pathway inhibition depletes stem-like cancer cells in glioblastoma.” Stem Cells 25(10):2524-33 Details

    Piccirillo SG, Vescovi AL (2007), “Brain tumour stem cells: possibilities of new therapeutic strategies.” Expert Opin Biol Ther 7(8):1129-35 Details

    Piccirillo SGM, Vescovi AL (2007), “Human brain tumor stem cells” Chapter 11 in Progress in Gene Therapy 3:299-316


    Piccirillo SG, Vescovi AL (2006), “Bone morphogenetic proteins regulate tumorigenicity in human glioblastoma stem cells.” Ernst Schering Found Symp Proc (5):59-81 Details