Dr. Piccirillo is an Assistant Professor of Cell Biology and Physiology at the University of New Mexico School of Medicine with a secondary appointment in the Department of Neurosurgery.

Dr. Piccirillo graduated at the University of Milan (Italy) in Medical Biotechnology in 2003 and gained a Ph.D. in Translational and Molecular Medicine in 2008 at the University of Milan-Bicocca.

For her post-doctoral training, Dr. Piccirillo was awarded a Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship in 2010 and worked as a Research Associate in the Department of Clinical Neurosciences of Cambridge University (UK). In February 2011, she was elected as a Research Fellow of Hughes Hall, one of the 31 colleges in Cambridge. In 2013, Dr. Piccirillo started a collaboration with the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas (US) and visited the institution between 2014-2016 as Visiting Senior Scientist.

In 2016, Dr. Piccirillo was recruited to UT Southwestern Medical Center as Faculty Member of Internal Medicine and in 2018 she was promoted to Assistant Professor at the same institution. In 2019, Dr. Piccirillo joined the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center as a Tenure-Track Assistant Professor in the Department of Cell Biology and Physiology and Full Member of the UNM Comprehensive Cancer Center.

Personal Statement

My research over the past seventeen years has had a major focus on the relationship between the genotype and the phenotype of the so-called 'cancer stem-like cells' in the most aggressive brain tumor in adults, i.e. glioblastoma (GBM). During my Ph.D. at the University of Milan-Bicocca (Italy), my work focused on key regulatory stem cell mechanisms of self-renewal and differentiation that are hijacked by tumor cells. In particular, we identified a new therapeutic approach based on the induction of differentiation in GBM cells and determined the in vivo efficacy of a pro-differentiation therapy using patient-derived xenograft models (Piccirillo S.G. et al., Nature 2006). This work led to a patent application and to the development of a pro-differentiating therapeutic agent that is currently tested in Phase I clinical trial.

My research also contributed to reveal that phenotypically and genetically distinct cancer stem-like cells coexist in the same GBM (Piccirillo S.G. et al., Oncogene 2009) and in areas of residual disease such as the tumor margin (Piccirillo S.G. et al., Br J Cancer 2012) and the sub-ventricular zone of the lateral ventricles (Piccirillo S.G. et al., Cancer Research 2015). Cancer stem-like cells from these areas contribute to patient-specific evolutionary trajectories of GBM growth and seed the recurrent tumor that is inevitable in GBM patients (Spiteri I., et al., Annals of Oncology 2019). All these findings from my doctoral and post-doctoral works have been published in international peer-reviewed journals, including my first two manuscripts as co-senior and co-corresponding author.

The research focus of my laboratory is the analysis of the functional consequences of the extensive genetic and phenotypic heterogeneity of GBM. In particular, we are interested in investigating the impact of intra-tumor heterogeneity on therapeutic resistance and tumor growth after treatment. We integrate genomic measurements with the phenotypic analysis of cancer stem-like cells and use this information to gain mechanistic insights into the development of therapeutic resistance.

Areas of Specialty

  • Brain tumors
  • Neural stem cells
  • Cancer genomics

Achievements & Awards

  • 2021 - Translational Adult Glioma Award, The Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation
  • 2021 - AACR-Novocure Tumor Treating Fields Independent Investigator Research Grant, American Association for Cancer Research and Novocure
  • 2019 - Gianni Bonadonna Prize for New Drug Development in Oncology, Gianni Bonadonna Foundation and Prada Group
  • 2017 - DocStars Award, The Cary Council - Southwestern Medical Foundation
  • 2016 - New Investigator Research Award, Cancer Research UK to support the collaborative project with UT Southwestern Medical Center
  • 2014 - Master of Arts (Honorary), University of Cambridge, UK
  • 2011-2016 - Research Fellowship at Hughes Hall College, Cambridge, UK
  • 2011-2013 - Marie Curie Intra-European Fellowship for Career Development, European Commission
  • 2010 - Young Investigator Award, British Neuro-Oncology Society and Brain Tumour Research, UK
  • 2007 - Best Young Italian Researcher, Premio Sapio Award

Key Publications

  • Piccirillo S.G., Reynolds B.A., Zanetti N., Lamorte G., Binda E., Broggi G., Brem H., Olivi A., Dimeco F., Vescovi A.L. (2006). Bone morphogenetic proteins inhibit the tumorigenic potential of human brain tumour-initiating cells. Nature, 444 (7120), 761-765.
  • Piccirillo S.G., Combi R., Cajola L., Patrizi A., Redaelli S., Bentivegna A., Baronchelli S., Maira G., Pollo B., Mangiola A., DiMeco F., Dalprà L., Vescovi A.L. (2009). Distinct pools of cancer stem-like cells coexist within human glioblastomas and display different tumorigenicity and independent genomic evolution. Oncogene, 28 (15), 1807-1811.
  • Piccirillo S.G., Dietz S., Madhu B., Griffiths J., Price S.J., Collins V.P., 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), 462-468.
  • Piccirillo S.G.ª, Spiteri I., Sottoriva A., Touloumis A., Ber S., Price S.J., Heywood R., Francis N.J., Howarth K.D., Collins V.P., Venkitaraman A.R., Curtis C., Marioni J.C., Tavaré S., Watts C.ª (2015). Contributions to drug resistance in glioblastoma derived from malignant cells in the sub-ependymal zone. Cancer Research, 75 (1), 194-202. (ªco-corresponding author)
  • Spiteri I., Caravagna G., Cresswell G.D., Vatsiou A., Nichol D., Acar A., Ermini L., Chkhaidze K., Werner B., Mair R., Brognaro E., Verhaak R.G.W., Sanguinetti G., Piccirillo S.G.M.*, Watts C.*, Sottoriva A.*. (2019). Evolutionary dynamics of residual disease in human glioblastoma. Annals of Oncology, 30 (3), 456-463. (*co-senior and co-corresponding author).




  • English, Italian