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New Head of Cancer Biology to target cancer cell division

World-leading cell biologist Dr Jonathon Pines aims to drive forward further advances into how cancer cells divide – and lay the groundwork for a new generation of anti-mitotic drugs – when he joins the ICR as Head of the Division of Cancer Biology.

Dr Pines will set up his own personal research team, taking the title of Professor of Cell Division, and will lead the ICR's programme of basic cancer research.

At the ICR, he will continue to focus his attention on understanding how mitosis – the process of cell division – is triggered and controlled.

By understanding how cancer cells divide through mitosis, he hopes to build on the ICR’s reputation for drug discovery by taking new types of mitosis-targeting drugs into the clinic.

Dr Pines joins the ICR from the Gurdon Institute in Cambridge, UK, where he is Senior Group Leader, Cancer Research UK Director of Research in Cell Division and a member of the Zoology Department at the University of Cambridge.

Dr Pines has made many important discoveries in the field of cellular division, and his leadership and expertise – in particular in methods for studying the regulation of cell division – will be of enormous benefit to the ICR.

His first major achievement came during his PhD, when he cloned the first Cyclin B – one of the proteins key to regulating cell division. This work, in the laboratory of Nobel prize winner Sir Tim Hunt, played a central role in taking forward the whole field of mitosis. Subsequently, Dr Pines cloned the first human cyclins thereby showing that these are conserved regulators of mitosis, and made the first link between cyclins and cancer.

Dr Pines was one of the first people to study proteins in living cells by tagging them with green fluorescent protein (GFP) and in collaboration he optimised this probe to make it usable in mammalian cells.

His investigations into the effects of the spatial arrangement of proteins regulating the cell cycle led to the discovery of a method for observing, in real time, the destruction of proteins into smaller units – a process known as proteolysis. This assay is now used by many other laboratories to study mitosis and meiosis and has been commercialised by Dr Pines and Amersham Biosciences into a non-invasive cell cycle marker, used by researchers across the globe.

Recently, Dr Pines has used GFP to investigate how dynamic processes, such as the spindle assembly checkpoint, recognise which proteins should be produced and which should be destroyed in order to regulate chromosome segregation and prevent aneuploidy.

Dr Pines is a Member of EMBO, an organisation that promotes excellence in the life sciences, and a Fellow of the Academy of Medical Sciences. He will be joining the ICR from 1 October, initially working between Chelsea and Cambridge while his lab is relocated.

Dr Pines said: “I’m very excited about joining the ICR and becoming part of its incredibly successful model of scientific discovery and translation for patient benefit.

“Our knowledge of the mechanism behind mitosis has increased dramatically in the last five years and the wealth of expertise at the ICR in both drug discovery and patient-centred research means that we may be able to exploit our knowledge in exciting new ventures.

“I am looking forward to applying my knowledge of cell division to help drive more discoveries in this area, and working closely with The Royal Marsden to accelerate the discoveries from the lab, into the clinic. And I’m keen to mentor the next generation of cancer researchers, helping them develop the skills and expertise to make important discoveries in the future.”

Professor Paul Workman, Chief Executive of the ICR, said: “I’m really delighted that Jon is joining us and look forward to working closely with him. Jon will take responsibility for leading the ICR’s programme of basic cancer research and we will benefit enormously from Dr Pines’ expertise and leadership, which will allow us to help shape our future research strategy.

“Jon is also looking forward to mentoring junior colleagues, building up the basic cancer research faculty in Chelsea, and linking with our translational and clinical research at the ICR and The Royal Marsden.”

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