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Division of Genetics and Epidemiology

The Division of Genetics and Epidemiology is internationally renowned for its pioneering work in understanding the underlying genetic causes of cancer risk. High-quality laboratory, epidemiological and clinical research within the division is driven by energetic, innovative leadership and complemented by participation in national and international research consortiums, clinical collaborations and technological partnerships.

A pipette and a well-plate

The four research leaders in the division are all medically qualified and the joint Clinical Academic Unit – formed between the division and the Cancer Genetics Unit at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust – provides exceptional opportunities to translate scientific discoveries for clinical benefit, particularly in the development of new ways of detecting people at increased risk of cancer and strategies to help them manage that risk.

Gene discovery research in the Division has been extremely successful, identifying genetic predisposition factors in a wide variety of cancers, including breast, ovarian, prostate, lung, testicular, brain, haematological and childhood cancers. The work has revealed important insights into the genetic architecture of cancer, and has identified both genetic and epigenetic factors that play an important role in determining cancer risk.

Researchers are also conducting several long-term epidemiological studies looking at how genetic, behavioural and environmental factors may affect cancer risk. The division hosts the Breakthrough Generations Study – funded by Breakthrough Breast Cancer – which is one of the world’s largest studies of the causes of breast cancer, involving more than 100,000 women across the UK.

A major initiative within the division is the Mainstreaming Cancer Genetics programme, funded by the Wellcome Trust, which is developing the technologies, informatics and implementation strategies that will allow cancer gene testing to become part of routine medical care. Its focus is on expanding gene testing for cancer patients and using the information to help shape their treatment, and to manage their and their relatives’ risk of future cancers.

Head of Division

Professor Nazneen Rahman

Professor Nazneen Rahman

Professor of Human Genetics

Professor Nazneen Rahman leads research directed at identifying, characterising and clinically implementing genes that predispose to cancer and developing foundational resources for genetic medicine. She was awarded a CBE in the Queen’s 2016 Birthday Honours in recognition of her contribution to medicine.

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.

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 and Population Genetics

Team leader: Professor Richard Houlston

Professor Richard Houlston’s Molecular and Population Genetics Team works to identify cancer susceptibility genes and understand how these can cause cancer.


Team leader: Professor Rosalind Eeles

Professor Rosalind Eeles’ Oncogenetics Team aims to translate laboratory findings about genetic risk factors for cancer, particularly prostate cancer, into the clinic.

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