Professor Mel Greaves PhD FRS
Founding Director, Centre for Evolution and Cancer, The Institute of Cancer Research, London
Mel Greaves’ early mentors – at University College London in the 1960s, included Professor Peter Medawar (immunology), Andrew Huxley and Bernard Katz (physiology), and John Maynard Smith (evolutionary biology). After postgraduate research in lymphocyte biology at the then Middlesex Hospital (Professor Ivan Roitt), Stockholm’s Karolinska Institute (Professor Goran Möller) and the National Institute for Medical Research (Professor Avrion Mitchison), Mel returned to University College London before joining the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (Lincoln’s Inn Fields, London) to focus on leukaemia biology. He developed antibody-based flow cytometry methods to provide the first description of the biological subtypes of childhood leukaemias and their relationship to both normal developmental lineages and to differential clinical outcome. This led to standardised diagnostic tests integral to clinical trials and the selective allocation of different therapeutic regimes – the beginnings of personalised medicine.
Since moving to The Institute of Cancer Research in the 1980s, he has focussed on the natural history and evolutionary biology of childhood acute lymphoblastic leukaemia. This work led to the discovery, principally via the analysis of leukaemia in twins, of the prenatal origins of the disease and the elucidation of an evolutionary explanation for a role of infection in its aetiology. His personal perspective on this experience with children’s leukaemia is described in his book ‘White Blood. Personal Journeys with Childhood Leukaemia’ (World Scientific Publishing, Singapore; 2008).
Long a vocal advocate for applying an evolutionary perspective to cancer, in both its causation and biology, his ‘popular science’ book on this topic ‘Cancer. The Evolutionary Legacy’ (Oxford University Press, Oxford; 2000) has been translated into five languages and Braille.
Mel is a strong supporter of efforts to increase the public understanding of science and strives to improve the literacy of young scientists. He believes that science writing, especially when directed at a general or lay audience, is more engaging when in a narrative or conversational style and infused with some humour – to compensate for the seriousness of it all.
Mel lives in Barnes, London with his wife, Jo. They have two children and three grandchildren. He should be retired by now, but isn’t, citing deafness to advice, European legislation, quick feet, and, primarily, addiction to science as excuses. He has published rather a lot of (too many?) papers and has been given some nice awards and is very happy that colleagues from all over the world remain good friends. He insists that his best experiment and paper is definitely his next one.