Functional heterogeneity in cancers


Cells within a cancer are highly heterogeneous with respect to their phenotype and can manifest distinct morphological, molecular and functional features. As a consequence, it is challenging to design treatment therapies that target all cancer cells as effectively. Currently, the Snippert group main interest is to use patient-derived (cancer) organoids and advanced imaging to study cellular phenomena that have a large impact on human cancer treatment.

Genetic heterogeneity

The vast majority of tumors is genetically heterogeneous, meaning that cancers are composed of many different genetic subclones. In recent years, continuous innovation in sequencing techniques has been the main driver to advance our knowledge about genetic heterogeneity in cancers. Unfortunately, little is known about tumor evolution at cell cycle resolution.

Phenotypic heterogeneity

Phenotypic heterogeneity in tumors includes non-genetic processes, such as different cell fates and phenotypes due to variable expression patterns. These are either established by tumor intrinsic cues, e.g. cellular differentiation hierarchy, or upon interaction with the tumor microenvironment.

The exact interplay between genetic and non-genetic factors remains elusive with respect to tumor growth, progression and therapy resistance.

(Single-cell) drug response

Regularly, anti-cancer therapies are effective against the majority of tumor cells. Unfortunately, there is frequently a small population of cells that shows resistance against the applied therapy. Little is known about the nature and origin of these resistant cells.



Recipient of the prestigious AMMODO Science Award

Beautiful ceremony in the Amsterdam Stedelijk Museum for modern art. AMMODO Science Award is a biannual prize for early-career scientists to continue their research line as they seem fit (€350k).

Proud to be listed among all previous recipients. Thankful to all current and past team members, and colleagues in the CMM department.

See a short video below about my team’s current interests:


Exploring vulnerabilities in drug-tolerant cancer cells

Drug-resistant cells are often metabolically inactive, compromising the suitability of mostly used drug response assays on organoids. In this publication @Cell reports, we designed a novel microscopy-based drug screen that accurately distinguishes dead from alive organoids. We found microtubule-targeting agents, commonly used in clinical oncology, to eliminate RAS mutant cells resistant to effective MAPK pathway inhibition.

Superior work from Sander!!! now being tested in a clinical trial!!!

Press release

funding logos for news items_Oncode

Continuation of Oncode Institute

Excited that Oncode Institute will continue to support fundamental research in our fight against cancer. Needless to say, we are proud to remain a member (senior now) and ready to roar!


Yes! Maria gets her well deserved PhD

Maria Heinz successfully defended her thesis called ‘Cellular heterogeneity during metastatic colonization of colorectal cancer’. Her thesis was a tour de force at a complex topic, but she excellent and showed great expertise of the topic and science in general. Both her social coffee glue and intellect will be missed. We wish her all the best in her further career and life in Heidelberg, Germany.


PhD defense Yannik Bollen

Yannik successfully defended his thesis called ‘Karyotype diversification in colorectal cancer’. His PhD trajectory was co-supervised by Prof. dr. Leon Terstappen of the University of Twente. Yannik will continue to pursue his interest in CRISPR editing of patient models within the infrastructure of Roche Institute for Translational Bioengineering (Basel, Switzerland). We wish him all the luck, and not only at his beloved poker table!


Shapeshifting cancer cells during liver metastasis formation

Ever wondered what the cellular trajectory is of a cancer cell metastasizing to the liver? Maria finished a tour de force @Cancer Research, mapping shapeshifting cancer stem cell phenotypes with high precision during metastasis formation.

Ooh…, regarding epithelial self-organization in organoids: it is conserved between mice, human, normal and cancer organoids. Its clinical relevance: the exact same processes take place during liver metastasis formation in patients.

Press release

Dr. Hugo Snippert  is Group Leader at the department of Molecular Cancer Research within the Center of Molecular Medicine at the University Medical Center Utrecht. In 2017 he became an Oncode Investigator.
Hugo received his PhD (cum laude) in the lab of Hans Clevers (Hubrecht Institute) where he used advanced mouse genetics and microscopy to characterize (new) stem cell populations in the mouse intestine, skin and intestinal cancer.

His main interests relate to cell fate specifications and how multiple individual cells act in concert to secure tissue functioning. He is always looking for concepts and principles, with a strong emphasis on developing new technology.

He received an HFSP young investigators grant and ERC starting grant in 2018. NWO VIDI in 2021.