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Division of Breast Cancer Research

The Division of Breast Cancer Research, which incorporates the Breast Cancer Now Research Centre, contains over 100 scientists and clinicians working in 12 teams.

Breast cancer cells (green) invading through a layer of fibroblasts (red). (Luke Henry / the ICR, 2009)
Breast cancer cells dividing

The division is focused on identifying both the genetic and environmental causes of breast cancer, so we can improve diagnosis, assess prognosis and likely response to treatment more accurately, and discover new targets for cancer therapies.

To fulfil the aim to translate its findings rapidly to the clinic, the division has strong links with other researchers at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, clinicians at The Royal Marsden and academic and commercial collaborators.

A key priority for the division is to identify and characterise breast cancer susceptibility genes. Its researchers were responsible for one of the biggest ever discoveries in cancer genetics – the identification of the breast cancer gene BRCA2.

Its discovery has enabled families with a history of the disease to be assessed for future risk, and has helped lay the groundwork for the development of novel therapies that target BRCA-associated cancers.

One of the division’s core research programmes aims to understand how genes and the tumour microenvironment help to drive the metastasis of breast cancers to other parts of the body.

Researchers are also interested in understanding how breast cancers become resistant to treatment.They have recently discovered a mechanism by which resistance develops to aromatase inhibitors, used in the hormonal treatment of breast cancer, and are uncovering mechanisms of resistance to PARP inhibitors, developed to treat patients with germline BRCA mutations.

The Breast Cancer Now Research Centre — formerly the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre — is funded by Breast Cancer Now, and was opened in 1999 by its patron, HRH The Prince of Wales.

It houses much of the division’s research, including the Breakthrough Generations Study - the world’s largest and most comprehensive study investigating the environmental, behavioural, hormonal and genetic causes of breast cancer.

Running over the next 40–50 years, scientists are analysing up to 200 patient blood samples every day, and assessing detailed patient questionnaires, to gather unique information on over 100,000 women and identify factors influencing their breast cancer risk.

Head of Division

Professor Andrew Tutt

Professor Andrew Tutt

Director, Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre

Andrew Tutt is Head of the Division of Breast Cancer Research and Director of the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at the ICR and Guy’s Hospital King’s College London. He is a Clinician Scientist with the Laboratory and Clinical Trials programme, and a Consultant Clinical Oncologist looking after women with breast cancer.

Research teams

Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre

Team leader: Professor Andrew Tutt

Professor Andrew Tutt is Head of the Division of Breast Cancer Research and Director of the Breast Cancer Now Toby Robins Research Centre at the ICR.

Breast Cancer Systemic Therapy Trials

Team leader: Dr Alicia Okines

Dr Okine's team are investigating and conducting clinical trials on metastatic breast cancers.

Breast Surgery Outcome Measures

Team leader: Miss Jennifer Rusby

Miss Jennifer Rusby's team develops methods for measuring breast cancer surgery outcomes. Better understanding and measurement will enable us to assess new techniques in surgery and sequencing of treatments to make improvements in patient care.

Cell Death and Immunity

Team leader: Professor Pascal Meier

Professor Meier and his team studies the complex relationship between cell death, inflammation and adaptive immunity, and how this knowledge might be applied to deliver better anti-cancer drugs to the clinic.

Complex Trait Genetics

Team leader: Dr Olivia Fletcher

Dr Fletcher’s Complex Trait Genetics Team uses clinical data and biological materials collected through the Breakthrough Generations Study and the Breakthrough Male Breast Cancer Study to characterise risk factors for breast cancer.

Drug Target Discovery

Team leader: Professor Spiros Linardopoulos

Dr Spiros Linardopoulos’ Cancer Drug Target Discovery Laboratory carries out basic biological research to identify gene targets and patients who would benefit from specific treatments, before developing anticancer drugs to treat these subgroups.


Team leader: Professor Mitch Dowsett

Professor Mitch Dowsett’s Endocrinology Team aims to translate basic breast cancer research into advances in patient care.

Functional Genetic Epidemiology

Team leader: Dr Olivia Fletcher

Dr Olivia Fletcher’s team uses intermediate phenotypes and functional studies to understand how individual genetic variants influence breast cancer risk which may, in the longer term, help to develop novel risk-reduction and prevention strategies.

Functional Genomics

Team leader: Dr Rachael Natrajan

Dr Rachel Natrajan’s Functional Genomics Team aims to identify the genetic causes of different types of breast cancer and then use this knowledge to develop new treatments for the disease.

Gene Function

Team leader: Professor Chris Lord

The Gene Function Laboratory investigates the genetic basis of breast cancer as a means to understand and treat the disease.

Molecular Cell Biology

Team leader: Professor Clare Isacke

Professor Clare Isacke’s Molecular Cell Biology Team investigates the environments surrounding breast cancer cells, in order to understand the molecular basis of the disease’s progression.

Molecular Oncology

Team leader: Professor Nicholas Turner

Professor Turner’s Molecular Oncology Team is developing non-invasive analyses of breast cancer in order to identify potential therapeutic targets in cancer and track a patient’s response to treatment.

Oncology Research in Low- and Middle-income Countries

Team leader: Dr Susannah Stanway

Dr Susannah Stanway is a Consultant in Medical Oncology in the Breast Unit at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. Susannah's principle research and education interests center around cancer control in low- and middle-income countries.

Target Validation and DNA Damage Response

Team leader: Professor Andrew Tutt

Professor Tutt’s team interests involve the discovery of novel therapies and biomarkers in BRCA1/BRCA2-associated cancers and ER/HER2-negative/basal-like breast cancers – including the identification of new drug targets and therapy combination strategies.