Professor Alan Ashworth FRS
Academic Title: Chair in Molecular Biology
Professor Ashworth’s laboratory focuses upon using genetic principles to understand cancer biology and then using this information to change the way patients are treated.
By using genetic principles we have been able to develop a novel therapeutic strategy for cancer treatment in the form of the synthetic lethality using PARP inhibitors.
Using synthetic lethality and other genetic principles such as oncogene addiction and genetic interaction mapping, we have also been able to identify novel mechanisms of cancer drug resistance, as well as identifying novel drug targets for therapy. The technologies we employ are diverse and include genome wide RNAi screens, chemical screens and genome sequencing. We use these as tools to provide biological insight into cancer.
Part of the work of the laboratory also focuses upon the implementation of these findings. In addition to the functional genetics activities, we also have programmes in biomarker development, clinical trial design and drug development.
Further details of Professor Ashworth's research in the Division of Breast Cancer can be found on the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre website.
Professor Alan Ashworth FRS is Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR). He is also Professor of Molecular Biology and Leader of the Gene Function team in The Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre at the ICR.
Professor Ashworth completed his undergraduate Bachelor of Science in Chemistry and Biochemistry at Imperial College and achieved his PhD in Biochemistry at University College London. He joined the ICR in 1986 as a Post Doctoral Scientist in the Section of Cell and Molecular Biology and in 1999 he was appointed the first Director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre. The Centre is now recognised internationally and has more than 120 scientists and researchers working on aspects of the disease ranging from basic molecular and cellular biology through to translational research and clinical trials. Professor Ashworth’s Directorship ended in January 2011 when he took up the position of Chief Executive of the ICR.
One of Professor Ashworth’s major contributions to cancer research has been his work on genes involved in cancer risk. He was a key part of the team that in 1995 discovered the gene BRCA2, which is linked to an increased risk of some types of cancers. Ten years later, Professor Ashworth identified a way to exploit genetic weaknesses in cancer cells including mutated BRCA2, leading to a new approach to cancer treatment.
His current research reflects his passion for the development of personalised cancer medicine, translating laboratory studies into improvements in patient care. He is also joint leader, with Professor Tony Swerdlow, of one of the world’s most comprehensive and largest (>100,000 participants), studies of breast cancer causation, the Breakthrough Generations Study.
Professor Ashworth is an elected member of EMBO and the Academy of Medical Sciences. His contributions to mammalian genetics and identification and study of inherited breast cancer susceptibility genes saw him elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2008. He has been the recipient of a number of scientific prizes and awards including The European Society of Medical Oncology Lifetime Achievement Award, the David T. Workman Memorial Award of the Samuel Waxman Cancer Research Foundation and the Meyenburg Foundation’s Cancer Research Award.