Professor Rosalind (Ros) Eeles has been instrumental in ensuring new discoveries in cancer genetics immediately benefit patients, particularly in her specialty areas of BRCA-mutation carriers and prostate cancer.
Professor Eeles is a clinician as well as a scientist, running both a laboratory at The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and a Cancer Genetics Clinic at the ICR’s partner hospital, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. She is also heavily involved in the Everyman campaign through her work with prostate cancer.
Professor Eeles is responsible for finding numerous genetic variants that increase people’s risk of prostate cancer, and has set up an international consortium – known as PRACTICAL – that gives researchers access to genetic samples from large numbers of prostate cancer patients. This collaboration is helping scientists find and evaluate potential prostate cancer risk genes more quickly, bringing the prospect of a comprehensive screening test and new treatments closer to reality.
Professor Eeles leads an international trial known as the IMPACT study, which aims to determine whether regular screening of men who have mutations in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes would lead to earlier diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancers. Previous research has shown that men who have alterations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes may have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. Preliminary results have shown that a higher proportion of mutation carriers had prostate cancer than non-carriers, and these were more likely to be aggressive forms of the disease.
She has also launched a new long-term study called PROFILE that aims to determine whether existing genetic tests and family history profiling can be used to find men at higher risk of prostate cancer, so they can be targeted for screening. It will compare rates of prostate cancer diagnosis between men considered to be at high and low genetic risk.
The Carrier Clinic, a combined research and care clinic which Professor Eeles set up at The Royal Marsden - the first of its type in London - ensures male BRCA1/2 mutation carriers receive support and regular prostate cancer screening. As the genes also increase the risk of breast cancer, the clinic in addition supports women to have regular MRI breast screening and is investigating better methods of management of women and men with mutations in these and other genes.
“Cancer genetics is a very exciting branch of medicine and I chose to specialise in it as it provides real promise for personalised and preventative medicine,” Professor Eeles says.
After completing her higher medical training, Professor Eeles trained in Clinical Oncology at The Royal Marsden and then in cancer genetics with Professor Bruce Ponder. She then spent a year as an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, United States, where she studied hereditary prostate cancer.
Professor Eeles returned to head The Cancer Genetics Team (now The Oncogenetics Team) at the ICR at the end of 1994. She is now a Professor in Oncogenetics at the ICR and an Honorary Consultant in Clinical Oncology and Cancer Genetics at The Royal Marsden. Professor Eeles says she chose to work at the ICR because it “enables basic research findings to be translated into benefit for patients”.
She has sat on several genetics advisory committees, including the Department of Health Genetics Advisory Committee, has given evidence to the House of Lords’ Select Committee on genomic medicine and edited a special edition of the Familial Cancer journal on delivering cancer genetics services. “I have particularly enjoyed being involved in policy development at government level as this has the potential to reach many individuals,” Professor Eeles says.
In her spare time, Professor Eeles grows orchids and enjoys reading, music and art and walking with her family. She is interested in fashion design and is a member of the Victoria and Albert Museum.