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Division of Structural Biology

The Division of Structural Biology aims to describe the structural and biochemical properties of proteins and the complexes they form, in order to understand the significance of these proteins in the development and treatment of cancer. 

See Head of Division and Teams

Video: ICR researchers led by Professor Alessandro Vannini have captured images of molecular machinery called RNA Polymerase III in the act of transcribing a gene in exquisite and unprecedented detail.

Researchers in the division use a variety of biochemical and biophysical techniques to understand protein structures, with a particular focus on X-ray crystallography and electron microscopy.

By combining structural biology with biochemistry and functional studies, researchers are able to gain an understanding of important biochemical interactions in the spread of cancer throughout a patient’s body.

Joint appointments with other divisions

Consequently, several team leaders in Structural biology have joint appointments with other divisions (e.g. Cancer Biology and Cancer Therapeutics) to facilitate the exploitation of the molecular understanding of biological mechanisms in the development of new cancer therapies.

Current research activities include studying key cancer stem cell signalling processes (Dr Sebastian Guettler), the role of the proteasome and the Cop9 signalosome in protein degradation and turnover (Dr Ed Morris), and transcription regulation (Dr Alessandro Vannini).

All of these research areas have the potential to open up novel therapeutic strategies. The division also uses high-throughput screening on a variety of cancer targets, in order to identify and develop potential new candidate drugs for cancer therapy (Dr Rob Van Montfort).

Head of Division

Professor Laurence Pearl

Professor Laurence Pearl

Team Leader

Professor Pearl seeks to understand the structural basis for assembly, specificity and regulation of the multi-protein complexes involved in the recognition, repair and signalling of DNA damage, and in the chaperone-mediated stabilisation and activation of cellular signalling pathways. These basic studies provide the means for discovery and development of novel small-molecule inhibitors with application as drugs for the treatment of cancer and other diseases.


+442071535420 ORCID 0000-0002-6910-1809

Deputy Heads of Division

Dr Sebastian Guettler

Dr Sebastian Guettler

Team Leader

Dr Sebastian Guettler is Deputy Head of the Division of Structural Biology. He studies the precise molecular mechanisms of signalling processes central to cancer stem cell function, with a particular interest in ADP-ribosylation in signal transduction. His previous work on tankyrase, a poly(ADP-ribose)polymerase (PARP), helped to explain how the rare human disease cherubism is caused.


+44 (0)207 153 5122 ORCID 0000-0002-3135-1546
Professor Alessandro Vannini

Professor Alessandro Vannini

In 2012, Professor Alessandro Vannini joined the ICR as Team Leader in the Division of Structural Biology. He and his team are focusing on the structural and functional characterisation of large macromolecular complexes that assemble at RNA polymerase III -transcribed genes across the eukaryotic genome.


020 7153 5557 ORCID 0000-0001-7212-5425

Research teams

Hit Discovery and Structural Design

Team leader: Dr Rob van Montfort

Dr Rob van Montfort’s Hit Discovery & Structural Design Team uses screening techniques to narrow down the number of potential molecules to take forward into drug development.

Macromolecular Structure Group

Team leader: Professor Laurence Pearl

The Macromolecular Structure Group seeks to understand the structural basis for assembly, specificity and regulation of the multi-protein complexes involved in the recognition, repair and signalling of DNA damage, and in the chaperone-mediated stabilisation and activation of cellular signalling pathways.

Mechanisms and Regulation of pre-mRNA Splicing

Team leader: Professor Vlad Pena

Professor Vlad Pena's team focuses on the structural basis of human pre-mRNA processing under normal, pathological and drug-induced conditions.

Molecular Mechanisms of Cell Cycle Regulation

Team leader: Dr Claudio Alfieri

Dr Claudio Alfieri’s team is researching the structure and molecular function of the Muv-B complexes in regulating cell cycle-dependent transcription.

Structural Biology of Cell Signalling

Team leader: Dr Sebastian Guettler

Dr Sebastian Guettler’s Structural Biology of Cell Signalling Team is researching the ways in which certain enzymes, known as ADP-ribosyltransferases (ARTs), control cell function.

Structural Biology of DNA Repair Complexes

Team leader: Dr Basil Greber

The team focuses on the structural and molecular mechanisms of DNA repair and genome maintenance in human cells.

Structural Electron Microscopy

Team leader: Dr Edward Morris

Dr Edward Morris’ Structural Electron Microscopy Team uses electron microscopy images to determine the three-dimensional structure and function of large, multi-protein complexes.

Vannini Group

Team leader: Professor Alessandro Vannini

The Vannini Group aims to understand how deregulation of a protein known as RNA polymerase III can cause cancer.