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Division of Cancer Biology

The Division of Cancer Biology studies the complex interplay of genes, proteins and biological processes that drive the development and growth of cancers. Understanding the many different biological systems underlying cancer’s development is essential for understanding cancer and identifying new targets for treatment.

See Head of Division and Teams

An ICR scientist looking at a microscope imageTeams within the division are researching a wide variety of aspects of biology implicated in the origin and growth of cancer, including DNA replication and repair, cell division, signalling, metabolism, and migration.

Much of the division’s research is concerned with genomic stability; in particular how cells normally ensure that no errors are made in copying the genome or repairing it after damage, and that a complete copy of the genome is inherited by each daughter cell. All of these processes can and do go wrong in cancer, and this leads to vulnerabilities in cancer cells that can be successfully exploited for treatment.

A second strength of the division is in studying protein function and interactions on a systems-wide scale to identify how signalling pathways are rewired in cancer cells, and how this affects cell behaviour, cell shape and cell metabolism.

Historically, scientists in the division were the first to make the ground-breaking discovery of the mechanism by which the RAS gene – one of the most commonly activated genes in cancer – causes cells to turn malignant through activation of the ERK-MAP kinase cell signalling pathway. 

Our research in cancer biology also helped identify and understand the BRAF oncogene, which is now an important drug target in malignant melanoma and other tumours.

There are strong links between the Divisions of Cancer Biology and Structural Biology, and joint appointments with the divisions of Structural Biology and Molecular Pathology ensure that scientific and technical developments can be rapidly exploited.

Internship opportunities

Applications for internships should be directed to the respective team leader whose work aligns with the interests of applicants. Please use the contact links provided on the individual research team pages listed below.

Head of Division

Professor Jonathon Pines

Professor Jonathon Pines

Head of the Division of Cancer Biology

Professor Jonathon Pines is Head of the Division of Cancer Biology. His research focuses on understanding how cells divide, in particular how the machinery that controls cell division is regulated in space and time.


020 7153 5178 ORCID 0000-0002-5227-6004

Deputy Head of Division

Professor Jessica Downs

Professor Jessica Downs

Team Leader

Professor Jessica Downs is Deputy Head of the Division of Cancer Biology. She is investigating the interplay between epigenetics and genome stability. The goal of this research is to understand how the packaging and organisation of DNA in cells helps to maintain its integrity and prevent tumourigenesis.


020 7153 5174 ORCID 0000-0002-6600-849X

Research teams

Cell Division

Team leader: Professor Jonathon Pines

Professor Jonathon Pines’s Cell Division Team is investigating how cells regulate cell division and divide genetic information evenly between cells when they separate.

Development and Cancer

Team leader: Dr Amanda Swain

Dr Amanda Swain’s Development and Cancer Team is investigating how the molecular processes that form the prostate, gonad and adrenal glands can contribute to tumour formation and progression.

Dynamical Cell Systems

Team leader: Professor Chris Bakal

Professor Chris Bakal’s Dynamical Cell Systems Team uses genomic approaches and computational modelling to understand how complex biochemical signalling networks are ‘rewired’ during the development of cancer.

Epigenetics and Genome Stability

Team leader: Professor Jessica Downs

Professor Jessica Downs’s team is investigating how DNA packaging influences the stability of genetic information. The researchers are studying how this packaging and its regulation can influence the development and progression of cancer.

Functional Proteomics

Team leader: Dr Jyoti Choudhary

Dr Jyoti Choudray's team explores the molecular phenotype of cancer, studying protein-protein interactions, signalling, post translational modifications and protein expression.

Genome Instability and Cancer

Team leader: Professor Wojciech Niedzwiedz

Professor Wojciech Niedzwiedz’s team investigates how cells repair damaged DNA with the highest possible fidelity in order to prevent catastrophic changes to their genome. The goal of this research is to understand some of the most fundamental processes in cell physiology and how these differ in cancer cells.

Genome Replication Team

Team leader: Dr Gideon Coster

Dr Gideon Coster’s team investigates how cells produce accurate copies of their genome during cell division. Importantly, errors during genome replication can be both a cause, and a consequence, of cancer.

Short Linear Motif

Team leader: Dr Norman Davey

Dr Norman Davey's team is focused on the role of short linear motifs within intrinsically disordered regions in directing cell regulation.

Signalling & Cancer Metabolism

Team leader: Dr George Poulogiannis

Dr George Poulogiannis’ Signalling and Cancer Metabolism Team is investigating the role of chemical signal networks in healthy and cancerous cell growth.

Telomere Biology

Team leader: Dr Max Douglas

The Telomere Biology team use reconstitution biochemistry and genetics to understand how telomeres are inherited from one generation of cells to the next.