Dr Christian Zierhut obtained his undergraduate degree from the University of Vienna in Austria, where he studied meiotic DNA repair with Prof Franz Klein at the Department of Genetics (later incorporated into the Max Perutz Labs).
For his PhD, he worked with Dr John Diffley at the Clare Hall Laboratories of the Cancer Research UK London Research Institute (now part of the Francis Crick Institute). Here, Christian studied how double-stranded DNA breaks are processed and activate DNA damage response mechanisms within cells.
Christian then went to New York, where he joined Prof Hironori Funabiki’s laboratory at Rockefeller University to carry out postdoctoral work. Christian first revealed that the packaging of DNA into chromatin is essential for the assembly of the nuclear envelope and the mitotic spindle.
Subsequently, he found that during normal cell growth, chromatin is also crucial for helping the intracellular innate immune system distinguish between self-DNA and the DNA of invading pathogens. At the same time, Christian’s work revealed that innate immune signalling from self-DNA, which can happen under stressed conditions, may be important for certain types of chemotherapy, such as treatment with taxanes.
Christian joined the Cancer Biology Division of the ICR in 2020 to continue his work on immune responses to self-DNA, and on their relevance for cancer.