Dr. Valés-Gómez has contributed very actively to the definition of the specificity of NK cell cytotoxicity, firstly during her PhD studies at Harvard University (1994-1999), analysing the interaction between different NK cell receptor-ligand pairs at a molecular level and studying their affinity of interaction using SPR (Surface Plasmon Resonance), a novel technology at the time. Later, during a first post-doctoral position at the University of Cambridge (1999-2006), she worked on the activation of human NK cells in the recognition of virally infected cells. A promotion to Senior Research Associate at Cambridge (2006-2010) allowed the start of Dr. Valés-Gómez independent research, focusing in the activating receptor NKG2D and its ligands, as a model of molecules that signal stress to the immune system. In 2010, she joined the Spanish National Centre for Biotechnology as tenured scientist where she leads the “tumour immune activation and evasion” laboratory.
The group of Dr Valés-Gómez studies the interaction between immune receptors and their ligands, using as a model the biology of Natural Killer (NK) cells. Recent studies on the biochemical properties and cell trafficking regulation of the NKG2D-ligands have revealed very important features of these families of proteins that contribute to the immune response in cancer and autoimmunity. The new research avenues initiated at the National Centre for Biotechnology have, as main long-term goal, understanding the role of NK cells in cancer recognition. Currently, to follow this objective the group studies two models of human cancer, bladder cancer and melanoma, using both in vitro models and ex-vivo patient samples. We apply a range of biochemical and immunological techniques to understand the differentiation and proliferation of the NK cell compartment in the context of cancer and the changes provoked by therapies. The group is interested in describing the detailed phenotype of NK cells with anti-tumoral capacities and the factors required for their differentiation. In parallel, we study immune modulating molecules secreted by tumours, either soluble or as part of extracellular vesicles, such as exosomes. In this context, we are also interested in developing exosome-based tools for immune modulation and technologies that will permit easier detection of exosomal biomarkers in cancer.