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Studying at Cambridge


About us

cellsThe MRC Cancer Unit undertakes world-leading research into understanding how cancers develop, and seeks to translate this knowledge into new approaches for diagnosis and treatment that can be applied in the clinic, using innovative enabling technologies.

Our focus is on discovering the earliest steps that lead to the transformation of normal cells into cancers arising in epithelial tissue, because we believe that better understanding of these steps will lead to new methods to improve the care and survival of patients with common and serious malignancies such as pancreatic, oesophageal, lung, breast and skin cancers.



Our work has four main objectives:

  • To improve understanding of the mechanisms that determine the progression from pre-neoplasia to neoplasia in epithelial tissues.
  • To evaluate their contribution to cancer pathogenesis using preclinical or clinical experimental models.
  • To exploit this information for the development of new predictive or therapeutic interventions.
  • Through these research activities, to provide a unique cross-disciplinary environment for the training of scientists and clinicians in translational cancer research.


Our research spans the following areas:

Chromosomal instability in cancer pathogenesis and treatment - led by Professor Ashok Venkitaraman

  • Pathogenesis and therapy of BRCA2-deficient cancers
  • DNA replication and repair mechanisms
  • Chromosome segregation mechanisms
  • Molecular and cellular imaging
  • Chemical biology and molecular therapeutics initiative


Oesophago-gastric adenocarninoma and Barrett’s oesophagus- led by Professor Rebecca Fitzgerald

  • Development of a screening and treatment strategy for Barrett's oesophagus
  • Understanding how Barrett's oesophagus develops into oesophageal adenocarcinoma and developing diagnostic tools to predict progression
  • Clinical and molecular factors affecting the outcome of oesophageal adenocarcinoma to develop prognostic algorithms and novel therapeutics


Stem cells and cancer - led by Dr Phil Jones

  • Stem cell behaviour in the development of cancer
  • Lineage tracing to track stem cells in vivo


Modelling tumour development and therapy - led by Dr Carla Martins

  • Mechanisms required for lung tumour evolution and maintenance


Stoma function in the tumour microenvironment - led by Dr Jacqui Shields

  • Formation and maintenance of the specialised stroma that fosters tumour development, and the role of lymphatic vessel function


Understanding the metabolic transformation of cancer cells- led by Dr Christian Frezza

  • The role of altered metabolism in cancer, and understanding how metabolic transformation regulates the process of tumorigenesis


Cancer metastasis- led by Dr Sakari Vanharanta

  • Regulation of metastatic cancer cell traits


Modelling biology as a cyber physical system- led by Dr Benjamin Hall

  • Building executable and hybrid/cyber-physical models of cell signaling processes, to understand how populations of cells in a tissue compete and develop in carcinogenesis


Integrative systems biology of tumourigenesis- led by Dr Shamith Samarajiwa

  • Integrative computational approaches to understand multi-scaled biological systems involved in immunity, inflammation and cancer, and particularly the systems underlying tumerigenesis