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Professor Kristian Helin

Group Leader

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Professor Kristian Helin’s team studies the role of chromatin-associated proteins (epigenetics) in the regulation of transcription, cell fate decisions and in cancer. The team is also using functional genetic screens to identify potential novel targets for the development of anti-cancer therapy. Group: Epigenetics and Cancer ORCID 0000-0003-1975-6097


Professor Kristian Helin is the Chief Executive and President of The Institute of Cancer Research, London. He started at the ICR in September 2021.

Kristian Helin obtained his MSc in Chemical Engineering from the Technical University of Denmark and his PhD from the University of Copenhagen. Between 1991 and 1993, he was a research fellow in the laboratory of Professor Ed Harlow at the Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School in Boston. Here, he identified and cloned the first members of the E2F transcription factor family and showed their importance for understanding the function of the retinoblastoma protein.

He returned to Denmark in 1993 to start as a group leader at the Danish Cancer Society in Copenhagen and moved two years later to the European Institute of Oncology in Milan, Italy, to become a founding member of the Department of Experimental Oncology.

As a group leader in Copenhagen and in Italy, his lab focused on understanding the role of the E2F transcription factors in cell cycle control, DNA replication and apoptosis. Moreover, the group started projects related to DNA damage and mitosis, and took the first steps into studying the function of epigenetic proteins in cancer.

In 2003 Kristian Helin was appointed as the founding director of a new research centre in Copenhagen, named the Biotech Research and Innovation Centre (BRIC), with the task of establishing a centre of excellence. He remained the Director of BRIC for more than 15 years and in that period, BRIC developed into a world-class research centre with approximately 250 employees, funded primary on external competitive grants.

While at BRIC, Professor Helin also established a Center for Epigenetics, which was funded by the Danish National Research Foundation (2007-2017), was a founding member of the Danish Stem Cell Center (2012-2021), and was also interim Vice-Dean for Research at the Faculty of Health and Medical Sciences at the University of Copenhagen (2017). In 2018, he took up a position at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center as the Chair of Cell Biology and Director of the Center for Epigenetics Research.  

The Helin laboratory has made several seminal discoveries in the field of cell cycle control, epigenetics and cancer. In addition to providing novel insights into mechanisms regulating transcription, stem cell identity and differentiation, the work in Professor Helin’s lab has led to the establishment of biotech company EpiTherapeutics, which in 2015 was sold to Gilead Inc.

The lab continues studying the role of epigenetic factors in transcription, cell fate decisions and in cancer. In recent years, the group has developed a particular interest in acute myeloid leukemia, in part because there is an unmet need for the development of novel therapies and in part because many epigenetic regulators are altered in AML. The work on AML has led to the identification of potential novel targets for the treatment of AML and insights into how normal haematopoiesis is regulated.

Professor Helin is an elected member of European Molecular Biology Organisation (EMBO) and the Royal Danish Academy of Science and Letters. He has received several prestigious awards for outstanding biomedical research and serves on several editorial boards, advisory boards and grant committees.