Prof. Dr. Tamara Lah Turnšek

Working place: Director, Scientific Councillor

Telephone number: +386 (0)59 23 27 03
Department: Department of Genetic Toxicology and Cancer Biology

Prof. Tamara Lah Turnšek was born in Ljubljana, Slovenia. She holds a BS in Organic Chemistry, a PhD in Biochemistry, both from the University of Ljubljana. Lah has been the Director of National Institute of Biology in Ljubljana since 1996, leading the 3rd largest public research institution for natural sciences in Slovenia. She established the Department of Genetic Toxicology and Cancer Biology and is the Programme leader of this research group. Since 2004 she is also Professor at the Biotechnical Faculty of the University of Ljubljana, teaching Cancer Biology, as well as Stem cells and Proteases at the Josef Stefan Postgraduate School. Basic research interests of Prof. Lah comprise the role of proteolytic enzymes and their inhibitors in pathophysiological conditions, particularly in cancer. Recently, her research has focused on brain tumours - glioma and the role of normal stem cells in tumour progression and therapy (

Tamara Lah started and developed her scientific career at the Department of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology of the Jožef Stefan Institute in Ljubljana. Her professional career outside Slovenia includes the positions of Visiting Research Assistant at University of Bonn, Germany, and Visiting Research Associate at the University of Newcastle upon Tyne, UK, where she performed part of her PhD research in the field of protein biochemistry. She gained her postdoctoral experiences at the Department of Pharmacology, School of Medicine, Wayne State University, Detroit, Michigan, USA, where she became Assistant Professor (1984-1987). From 1991 to 1994 she was Visiting Professor and Director of Metastasis Research Laboratory at Albert Einstein Medical Centre, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA.  

As Director of the National Institute of Biology for twenty consecutive years Tamara Lah actively participates in national and international science policy. At present she is President of the Science and Technology Council of the Government of Slovenia. Prior to that (1993-1994) she was appointed as the Counsellor for Medical Sciences at the Ministry of Science and Technology of Slovenia. Between 2000 and 2008 she was President of the National Committee for Equal Opportunity for Women Scientists, and an active member of the EU Helsinki group “Women in Science”. In 2013 she was nominated by the Government of Slovenia to be the President of the Committee for National Science ZOIS Awards.

Research - major achievements in the field
Basic research interests of Prof. Tamara Lah Turnšek comprise the role of proteases and their inhibitors in physiological and pathological conditions, particularly in cancer, such as breast, lung and brain tumours, especially glioma. Her work on the use of proteases is applicable in clinical practice, both in diagnostics and in therapy as biomarkers. Lah Turnšek collaborated with Krka company in the production of diagnostic immunoassays. She is an elected member of the Pathobiology group of the European Organisation of Research and Treatment of Cancer (EORTC). In carcinogenesis research, her group recently published on the interesting mechanisms of arsenite (Trisenox) treatment of glioblastoma (Primon et al., 2017). Aside from that, her research team has focused on the chemopreventive, as well as cytotoxic effects of natural flavonoids, such as xanthohumol and resveratrol. Their recent efforts are focused on the possible use of selective cathepsin inhibitors in combination with chemo therapeutics (Castino et al., 2011).

Cancer stem cells, in particular glioblastoma stem cells (GSC) are in the focus of her recent research. Lah’s team is involved in long-term collaboration with the Department of Neurosurgery of the University Medical Centres in Ljubljana and in Maribor, performing clinical studies in finding novel biomarkers allowing early prognosis and testing response to therapy. As stem cells are surpassingly
resistant to treatment, this pre-clinical research focuses on selective GSC markers. Her group was the first to find that the novel tetraspanin CD9 is a highly selective GSC marker in contrast to the markers currently used; CD9 may also prove to be a good therapeutic target for eradication of resistant GSC (Podergajs et al., 2015).

Next major research topic of the Prof. Lah’s group is tumour microenvironment that significantly contributes to cancer progression. Her recent research is focused on the cross–communication between tumour and stromal cells, for example with normal tissue mesenchymal stem cells, infiltrating the tumour. Recently she has been involved mostly in studying cellular interactions of cancer associated with stem cells at the level of transcriptomics and proteomics, using systems biology approaches. The potential application of mesenchymal stem cells is currently being investigated, showing that their effects on tumour tissue are highly dependent on intra-tumour heterogeneity (Breznik et al., 2017).

Latest studies revealed a very complex interplay between glioma autonomous and non-autonomous environment. A 3D spheroid model has been developed in the laboratory to be used as a sophisticated model for testing drugs in collaboration with industrial partners, such as company Sandoz-Lek-Novartis in Slovenia.


  • BS Engineer (1971), Chemistry, Faculty of Natural Sciences and Technology, University of Ljubljana (UL), Slovenia
  • Msci (1974), Biochemistry, UL
  • PhD (1981), Biochemistry, UL (in collaboration with Newcastle University, Newcastle upon Tyne, UK).

Positions and employment
  • 1996–present:
    Director of the Institute and Scientific Councillor, Programme Leader
    National Institute of Biology (NIB), Ljubljana, Slovenia

  • 2004-present:
    Professor of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (part time employment)
    Dept. of Biochemistry, Faculty of Chemistry and Chemical Technology, University of Ljubljana (UL), Ljubljana, Slovenia

  • 1996-2002:
    Assistant Professor
    Biotechnical Faculty, UL

  • 1994-1996:
    Head of the Department of Genetic Toxicology and Cancer Biology

  • 1991-1994:
    Director of Metastasis Research
    Albert Einstein Medical Center, 5505 Old York Road, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA

  • 1988-1991:
    Research Associate – Assistant Professor
    Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Jožef Stefan Institute (IJS), Ljubljana, Slovenia

  • 1984-1987:
    Senior Research Associate, Visiting Assistant Professor (since 1986)
    Medical Faculty, Wayne State University Detroit, Michigan, USA

  • 1979-1985:
    Research Associate
    Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, IJS

  • 1974-1979:
    Research Assistant
    Clinical Laboratory, Paediatric Clinic, University Medical Centre, Ljubljana, Slovenia

  • 1971-1974:
    Research Associate
    Dept. of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, IJS

Research Projects (last 5 years)

  • ARRS Programme P1-0245: Ecotoxicology, toxicogenomics and carcinogenesis (2000-2005, 2015-2019)
  • ARRS J1-0295: Apoptosis of tumour cells as therapeutic target (2009-2012)
  • ARRS J1 6373: Dual role of stem cells in cancer progression (2011-2014)
  • ARRS J1-71119: Biology at Structural Level of EpCAM as a Foundation for Efficient Tumor Targeting (PI B. Lenarčič, FKKT; Co-PI T.Lah,  2016-2018)

Major International Projects:

ERA-NET Virtual Institute (PathoGenoMics) INREMOS: SYSTHER- Systems Biology Tools Development for Cell Therapy and Drug Development (2006-2011) formed a partnership between Slovenian teams from NIB and the Blood Transfusion Centre and German groups from the University of Postdam/Institute of Biochemistry and Biology/Max Planck Institute of Molecular Plant Physiology, Junior Research Group Systems Immunology/Institute for Theoretical Biology, Humboldt-University Berlin, University Clinic for Neurosurgery/Ludwig-Maximilian-University of Munich  (LMU) in Großhadern and MicroDiscovery GmbH. The total value of the project was 5 M EUR.

GLIOMA - Determination of New Biomarkers of Brain Tumours as Diagnostic indicators and Therapeutic Targets in the scope of the European Cross-Border Cooperation Programme Italy-Slovenia (2008-2015).  GLIOMA was a three-year project with a total value of 1.3 M EUR. Apart from NIB, the Medical Faculty, University of Ljubljana, University Medical Centre Ljubljana (Department of Neurosurgery) collaborated on the Slovenian side and the University Hospital in Udine and Sinchrotrone Trieste were project partners from Italy.

TRANSGLIOMA, Interreg SLO-IT Programme: New Therapies of glioblastoma based on cross-border translation research platform (2017-2020), (Coordinator for NIB T. Lah), is the continuation of GLIOMA, the financing of was approved in July 2017 and will be performed by the same group of scientists and clinicians. It is intended to validate the GSC markers newly discovered in the scope of the GLIOMA project, they will now be validated by animal testing and in clinical settings.

The Relevance of Kinin and Related Purinergic Signalling Pathways in Gliobastoma Cells upon Co-culturing with Human Mesenchymal Stem Cells Research in cooperation with the Brazilian National Council of Technological and Scientific Development (CNPq) - Project Linha 2 (Bolsa Pesquisador Visitante Especial Edital Nº 61/20119) hosted by Co-PI Prof. Henning Ulrich at the University of Sao Paolo, Institute of Chemistry.


Prof. Lah received her academic title Professor of biochemistry and molecular biology at the Biotechnical Faculty, UL, and teaches in Bologna II stage programmes at:
  • Department of Biology, BF, UL: Biology of Cancer
  • Chair of Biochemistry, FKKT, UL: Tumour Biochemistry
  • Biomedicine, Medical Faculty, UL: Molecular mechanisms in ignition and development of cancer (co-lecturing)
  • International postgraduate school (IPS) Josef Stefan,
  • Programme Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: Proteolytic systems in cancer and
  • Programme Sensor technologies: Synthetic biology and biosensors

Visiting Professorship

Prof. Lah was invited as “Honorary invited lecturer SPINOZA” to the University Amsterdam Academic Medical Centre in June 2011. She was teaching medical doctoral students and tutoring seminars on stem cells in cancer and the role of proteolytic systems in cancer progression, in particular in brain tumours.

Tamara Lah was appointed as Visiting Professor at University of Sao Paolo between October 2013–2016, holding a course on “Selected themes on tumour biology” for doctoral students of biochemistry at the Instituto de Química. The Programme was sponsored by CNPq, the Brazilian National Council of Technological and Scientific Development and has contributed to academic collaboration between Slovenia and Brasil.


Prof. Lah was supervisor to 12 Doctoral students, 10 Master students and 18 Bachelor students. In 2017 she is supervising two (2) Doctoral students and one (1) student, who is doing a “sandwich PhD” at University of Sao Paolo and IPS.

Recent PhD Theses:

TRINKAUS, Miha. The role of cathepsins B and L and their inhibitors stefin B and cistatin C in progression of intracranial tumors (2005).
TORKAR, Ana. Development of selective cathepsin L inhibitors (2013).
PODERGAJS, Neža. The role of EGFR and FGRF signal pathways and new biomarkers of glioblastoma stem cells (2013).  
PRIMON, Monika. The effects of arsenic trioxide and cathepsin L silencing and mesnechymal stem cells effects on glioblastoma cells (2014).
KOLOŠA, Katja. Optimization of human mesenchymal stem cells production and their mutual interactions with tumour cells (2016).
VERBOVŠEK, Urška. Cathepsin K as potential tumour marker in glioblastoma multiformae (2016).
BURJEK, Mateja. The expression of genes of proteases in mesenchymal stem cell and glioblastoma cell co-cultures (Master Thesis) (2017).

Membership in scientific societies,

Tamara Lah Turnšek was elected to be the member of the Engineer Society of Slovenia (IAS) in 2015.
She was a member of an EU Advisory Board and Committees in the field of Life sciences and biomedicine and served as evaluator of EU projects and Joint Research Centres.
She is also member of:
  • American Association for Cancer Research,
  • European Association of Cancer Research,
  • European Organisation for Research and Treatment of Cancer: full member of Patho-Biology Group,
  • European Association of Neuro-oncolgy,
  • International Proteolysis Society,
  • Slovenian Biochemical Society,
  • Genetic Society Slovenia,
  • Slovenian Association of Radiology,
  • Slovenian Society of Toxicology
  • Cell and Tissue Engineering Society of Slovenia.

Selected recent  publications  2010-2017

TORSVIK, Anja, PRIMON, Monika, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara, MOTALN, Helena. Spontaneous malignant transformation of human mesenchymal stem cells reflects cross-contamination: putting the research field on track - letter. Cancer res. (Baltimore), 2010, vol. 70, no. 15, pp. 6393-6396.

MOTALN, Helena, SCHICHOR, Christian, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Human mesenchymal stem cells and their use in cell-based therapies. Cancer (Print), 2010, vol. 116, no. 11, pp. 2519-2530.

KENIG, Saša, FRANGEŽ, Robert, PUCER, Anja, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Inhibition of cathepsin L lowers the apoptotic threshold of glioblastoma cells by up-regulating p53 and transcription of caspases 3 and 7. Apoptosis, 2011, vol. 16, no. 7, pp. 671-682.

CASTINO, Roberta, PUCER, Anja, VENERONI, Roberta, MORANI, Federica, PERACCHIO, Claudia, LAH TURNŠEK,Tamara, ISIDORO, Ciro. Resveratrol reduces the invasive growth and promotes the acquisition of a long-lasting differentiated phenotype in human glioblastoma cells. J. agric. food chem., 2011, vol. 59, no. 8, pp. 4264-4272.

SCHICHOR Christian , ALBRECHT Valerie , KORTE , Benjamin,  BUCHNER, Alexander , BUCHNER Rainer, MYSLIWIETZ Josef, PARON Igor, MOTALN, Helena, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara, JÜRCHOTT Kathrin ,

SELBIG Joachim,  TONN  Joerg-Christian. Mesenchymal stem cells and glioma cells form a structural as well as a functional syncytium in vitro. Exp. neurol., 2012, vol. 234, issue 1, pp. 208-219.

MOTALN, Helena, GRUDEN, Kristina, HREN, Matjaž, SCHICHOR, Christian, PRIMON, Monika, ROTTER, Ana, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Human mesenchymal stem cells exploit the immune response mediating chemokines to impact the phenotype of glioblastoma. Cell transplant. 2012, vol. 21, no. 7, pp. 1529-1545.

TORKAR, Ana, BREGANT, S., DEVEL, Laurent, NOVINEC, Marko, LENARČIČ, Brigita, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara, DIVE, Vincent. A novel photoaffinity-based probe for selective detection of cathepsin L active form. ChemBioChem. 2012, vol. 13, issue 17, pp. 2616-2621.

GOLE, Boris, HUSZTHY, Peter C., POPOVIĆ, Mara, JERUC, Jera, ARDEBILI, Seyed Yousef, BJERKVIG, Rolf, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. The regulation of cysteine cathepsins and cystatins in human gliomas. Int J Cancer 2012, vol. 131, issue 8, pp. 1779-1789.

HERMAN, Ana, GRUDEN, Kristina, BLEJEC, Andrej, PODPEČAN, Vid, MOTALN, Helena, ROŽMAN, Primož, HREN, Matjaž, ZUPANČIČ, Klemen, VEBER, Matija, VERBOVŠEK, Urška, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara, PORČNIK, Andrej, KORŠIČ, Marjan, KNEŽEVIĆ, Miomir, JERAS, Matjaž. Analysis of glioblastoma patients' plasma revealed the presence of microRNAs with a prognostic impact on survival and those of viral origin. PloS one, ISSN 1932-6203, 2015, vol. 10, issue 5, pp. 1-20.

VERBOVŠEK, Urška, MOTALN, Helena, ROTTER, Ana, ATAI, Nadia A., GRUDEN, Kristina, NOORDEN, Cornelis J. F. van, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Expression analysis of all protease genes reveals cathepsin K to be overexpressed in glioblastoma. PloS one, ISSN 1932-6203, 2014, vol. 9.

Gholamreza, MOTALN, Helena, RUARO, Maria Elisabetta, BOURKOULA, Evgenia, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara, KOMEL, Radovan. TRIM28 and [beta]-actin identified via nanobody-based reverse proteomics approach as possible human glioblastoma biomarkers. PloS one, ISSN 1932-6203, Nov. 2014, vol. 9, iss. 11.
<DELAČ, Mateja, MOTALN, Helena, ULRICH, Henning, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Aptamer for imaging and therapeutic targeting of brain tumor glioblastoma. Cytometry. Part A, ISSN 1552-4922, 2015, vol. 87, issue 9, pp. 806-816.

HIRA, Vashendriya V. V., PLOEGMAKERS, Kimberley J., GREVERS, Frederieke, VERBOVŠEK, Urška, SILVESTRE-ROIG, Carlos, ARONICA, Eleonora, TIGCHELAAR, Wikky, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara, MOLENAAR, Remco J., NOORDEN, Cornelis J. F. van. CD133+ and nestin+ glioma stem-like cells reside around CD31+ arterioles in niches that express SDF-1[alpha], CXCR4, osteopontin and cathepsin K. The Journal of histochemistry and cytochemistry,, 2015, vol. 63, no. 7, pp. 481-493.

MOTALN, Helena, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Cytokines play a key role in communication between mesenchymal stem cells and brain cancer cells. Protein peptide letters, ISSN 0929-8665, 2015, vol. 22, issue 4, pp. 322-331.

PILLAT, Micheli M., NEVES OLIVEIRA, Mona das, MOTALN, Helena, BREZNIK, Barbara, GLASER, Talita, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara, ULRICH, Henning. Glioblastoma-mesenchymal stem cell communication modulates expression patterns of kinin receptors : possible involvement of bradykinin in information flow. Cytometry. Part A, ISSN 1552-4922, 2015, 11 pp.

VITTORI, Miloš, MOTALN, Helena, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. The study of glioma by xenotransplantation in zebrafish early life stages. The Journal of histochemistry and cytochemistry, ISSN 0022-1554, 2015, vol. 63, no. 10, pp. 749-761

HIRA, Vashendriya V. V., VERBOVŠEK, Urška, BREZNIK, Barbara, SRDIČ, Matic, NOVINEC, Marko, KAKAR, Hala, WORMER, Jill, SWAAN, Britt van der, LENARČIČ, Brigita, JULIANO, Luiz, MEHTA, Shwetal, NOORDEN, Cornelis J. F. van, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Cathepsin K cleavage of SDF-1[alpha] inhibits its chemotactic activity towards glioblastoma stem-like cells. Biochimica et biophysica acta. BBA, Molecular cell research, ISSN 0167-4889. [Print ed.], 2017, vol. 1864, no. 3, pp. 594-603.

PRIMON, Monika, HUSZTHY, Peter C., MOTALN, Helena, TALASILA, Krishna M., MILETIC, Hrvoje, ATAI, Nadia A., BJERKVIG, Rolf, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Cathepsin L silencing increases As2O3 toxicity in malignantly transformed pilocytic astrocytoma MPA58 cells by activating caspases 3/7. Experimental cell research, ISSN 0014-4827, 2017, vol. 356, iss. 1, pp. 64-73.

STROJNIK, Tadej, DUH, Darja, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Prevalence of neurotropic viruses in malignant glioma and their onco-modulatory potential. In Vivo, ISSN 1791-7549, Mar.-Apr. 2017, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 221-229p.

BREZNIK, Barbara, MOTALN, Helena, VITTORI, Miloš, ROTTER, Ana, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Mesenchymal stem cells differentially affect the invasion of distinct glioblastoma cell lines. Oncotarget, ISSN 1949-2553, 2017, vol. 8, no. 15, pp. 25482-25499.

RECEK, Nina, RESNIK, Matic, ZAPLOTNIK, Rok, MOZETIČ, Miran, MOTALN, Helena, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara, VESEL, Alenka. Cell proliferation on polyethylene terephthalate treated in plasma created in SO2/O2SO2/O2 mixtures. Polymers, ISSN 2073-4360, 2017, vol. 9, no. 3, pp. 82-1-82-16.

KENIG, Saša, FAORO, Valentina, BOURKOULA, Evgenia, PODERGAJS, Neža, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara, SKRAP, Miran, et al. Topoisomerase IIB mediates the resistance of glioblastoma stem cells to replication stress-inducing drugs. Cancer cell international, ISSN 1475-2867, July 2016, vol. 16, no. 1, p. 58.

PILLAT, Micheli M., NEVES OLIVEIRA, Mona das, MOTALN, Helena, BREZNIK, Barbara, GLASER, Talita, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara, ULRICH, Henning. Glioblastoma-mesenchymal stem cell communication modulates expression patterns of kinin receptors : possible involvement of bradykinin in information flow. Cytometry. Part A, ISSN 1552-4922, 2016, vol. 89A, iss. 4, pp. 365-375.

RECEK, Nina, RESNIK, Matic, MOTALN, Helena, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara, AUGUSTINE, Robin, KALARIKKAL, Nandakumar, THOMAS, Sabu, MOZETIČ, Miran. Cell adhesion on polycaprolactone modified by plasma treatment. International Journal of Polymer Science, ISSN 1687-9422, 2016, vol. 2016, pp. 7354396-1-7354396-9.

PODERGAJS, Neža, MOTALN, Helena, RAJČEVIĆ, Uroš, VERBOVŠEK, Urška, KORŠIČ, Marjan, OBAD, Nina, ESPEDAL, Heidi, VITTORI, Miloš, HEROLD-MENDE, Christel, MILETIC, Hrvoje, BJERKVIG, Rolf, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Transmembrane protein CD9 is glioblastoma biomarker, relevant for maintenance of glioblastoma stem cells. Oncotarget, ISSN 1949-2553, 2016, vol. 7, no. 1, pp. 593-609.

VITTORI, Miloš, BREZNIK, Barbara, GREDAR, Tajda, HROVAT, Katja, BIZJAK-MALI, Lilijana, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Imaging of human glioblastoma cells and their interactions with mesenchymal stem cells in the zebrafish (Danio rerio) embryonic brain. Radiology and oncology, ISSN 1318-2099. [Print ed.], 2016, vol. 50, no. 2, pp. 159-167.

VEČERIĆ-HALER, Željka, ERMAN, Andreja, CERAR, Anton, MOTALN, Helena, KOLOŠA, Katja, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara, SODIN-ŠEMRL, Snežna, LAKOTA, Katja, MRAK POLJŠAK, Katjuša, ŠKRAJNAR, Špela, KRANJC, Simona, ARNOL, Miha, PERŠE, Martina. Improved protective effect of umbilical cord stem cell transplantation on cisplatin-induced kidney injury in mice pretreated with antithymocyte globulin. Stem Cells International (Online), ISSN 1687-9678, 2016, vol. 2016, pp. 1-12.

BREZNIK, Barbara, MOTALN, Helena, LAH TURNŠEK, Tamara. Proteases and cytokines as mediators of interactions between cancer and stromal cells in tumours. Biological chemistry, ISSN 1431-6730, 2017, vol. 398, no. 7, pp. 709-719.