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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 Research Centre

Andrew Tutt is Head of the Division of Breast Cancer Research and Director of Breast Cancer Now Research Centre at the ICR. He is a Clinician Scientist with the Laboratory and Clinical Trials programme directed at genomically unstable and DNA repair deficient forms of breast cancer such as those with “Triple Negative” phenotypes.

Research teams

Aetiological Epidemiology

Team leader: Professor Anthony Swerdlow

Professor Anthony Swerdlow’s Aetiological Epidemiology Team uses epidemiological methods to gain a better understanding of the causes of cancer.

Breast Cancer Now Research Centre Director

Team leader: Professor Andrew Tutt

Andrew Tutt is Head of the Division of Breast Cancer Research and Director of Breast Cancer Now’s Research Centre at the ICR.

Cell Death and Inflammation

Team leader: Professor Pascal Meier

Professor Meier’s Cell Death Inflammation Team uses a combination of genetic- and molecular research to study how ubiquitin, a chemical messenger, controls cancer cell death.

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.

Endocrinology

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.

Genetic Susceptibility

Team leader: Professor Nazneen Rahman

Professor Nazneen Rahman’s Genetic Susceptibility Team aims to identify, characterise and clinically implement genetic predispositions to a variety of cancers, particularly breast, ovarian, testicular and childhood cancers.

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

Dr 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.

Target Discovery and Apoptosis

Team leader: Professor Spiros Linardopoulos

Dr Spiros Linardopoulos’ 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.

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