Professor Rosalind (Ros) Eeles has been instrumental in ensuring new discoveries in cancer genetics, immediately benefit patients, particularly in her speciality areas of BRCA-mutation, other gene-mutation carriers and prostate cancer.
Professor Eeles is a clinician as well as a scientist, running both a laboratory at The Institute of Cancer Research, London, and a Cancer Genetics and Uro-Oncology Clinic at the ICR’s partner hospital, The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. She trained at The University of Cambridge and St Thomas’ Hospital Medical School.
She then underwent higher medical training and is a Fellow of The Royal College of Physicians of London. She trained in Clinical Oncology at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. She is a Fellow of The Academy of Medical Sciences in London, and is a Fellow of The Royal College of Radiologists (Clinical Oncology Faculty), UK. Her research training was in genetic predisposition to cancer at the ICR and she has a PhD in Cancer Genetics from The University of London.
After completing her higher medical training, Professor Eeles trained in Clinical Oncology at The Royal Marsden and then in cancer genetics with Professor Bruce Ponder. She then spent a year as an Assistant Professor at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, United States, where she studied hereditary prostate cancer, worked in research in cancer genetics and had oncology clinical experience.
Professor Eeles returned from the USA to head The Cancer Genetics Team (now The Oncogenetics Team) at the ICR at the end of 1994. She is now a Professor of Oncogenetics at The ICR and an Honorary Consultant in Clinical Oncology and Cancer Genetics at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust. Professor Eeles says she chose to work at the ICR because it “enables basic research findings to be translated into benefit for patients”.
She has sat on several genetics advisory committees, both national and international, including the Department of Health Genetics Advisory Committee, has given evidence to the House of Lords’ Select Committee on genomic medicine and edited a special edition of the Familial Cancer journal on delivering cancer genetics services. She is the Royal College of Radiologists (Clinical Oncology Faculty) representative on the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges Genomics Clinical Champions Working Group. “I have particularly enjoyed being involved in policy development at government level as this has the potential to reach many individuals,” Professor Eeles says.
Professor Eeles is responsible for finding over three quarters of the currently known, numerous genetic variants that increase men's risk of prostate cancer, and has set up an international consortium – known as PRACTICAL – that gives researchers access to genetic samples from large numbers of prostate cancer patients. This collaboration is helping scientists find and evaluate potential prostate cancer risk genes more quickly, bringing the prospect of a comprehensive screening test and new treatments closer to reality. It involves over 100 research groups worldwide. The professor is an author of 392 papers, who has also edited major textbooks on genetic predisposition to cancer, and cancer prevention and screening.
Professor Eeles leads The UK Genetic Prostate Cancer Study (UKGPCS), which was first established in 1993 and is the largest prostate cancer genetic study of its kind in the UK, collaborating with nearly 200 hospitals. This study aims to increase the understanding of the genetic causes of prostate cancer.
She leads an international trial known as the IMPACT study, which aims to determine whether regular screening of men who have mutations in their genes would lead to earlier diagnosis of aggressive prostate cancers. Previous research has shown that men who have alterations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes may have a higher risk of developing prostate cancer. Preliminary results have shown that a higher proportion of mutation carriers had prostate cancer than non-carriers, and these were more likely to be aggressive forms of the disease.
Similarly, research has indicated that men who carry mutations in the mis-match repair genes (MMR; Lynch Syndrome) may also have a higher risk of developing prostate cancers at a younger age. The IMPACT study is studying prostate screening in both men with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations and men with MMR mutations to determine whether screening detects clinically significant cancers in these groups of men. The men with BRCA mutation are in the follow up stage of the study. The results of this study will be used to produce clinical guidelines to inform the management of these men.
She also leads a study called GENPROS, which is following up men with rare germline mutations including BRCA1, BRCA2, MMR, HOXB13 and other DNA repair gene mutation carriers following their prostate cancer diagnosis and treatment. The aim is to evaluate treatment outcomes and survival in these men at higher risk.
Professor Eeles has also launched two new prostate screening studies called PROFILE and BARCODE 1.
The PROFILE study aims to determine whether existing genetic tests and family history profiling can be used to find men at higher risk of prostate cancer, so they can be targeted for screening. It will compare rates of prostate cancer diagnosis between men considered to be at higher and lower genetic risk.
The BARCODE 1 study has been developed to investigate the use of genetic profiling in prostate screening in the general population. This study will recruit 5000 men from the general practice to identify those men at the highest genetic risk of prostate cancer to offer them prostate screening.
Professor Eeles also leads a clinical trial, which uses genetic testing to target cancer treatments called BARCODE 2. Men with advanced prostate cancer can undergo rapid genetic testing within the study to identify whether they have a mutation in a DNA repair gene. Men identified with mutations are offered treatment with Carboplatin once they have completed all standard treatments. Platinum-based agents have been shown to be effective treatments for women with ovarian cancer who have a mutation in a DNA repair gene.
In order to evaluate the increasing role of genetic testing in men with and at risk of prostate cancer, Professor Eeles has started a new flagship clinic at The Royal Marsden Hospital NHS Foundation Trust - The Prostate Risk Clinic. Men are referred to this clinic for an assessment of their family history of prostate cancer and may be offered research genetic testing to inform their management, including the screening and treatment studies outlined above.
“Cancer genetics is a very exciting branch of medicine and I chose to specialise in it as it provides real promise for personalised and preventative medicine,” Professor Eeles says.
In her spare time, Professor Eeles grows orchids and enjoys reading, opera, music and art. She is interested in fashion design and is a member of the Victoria and Albert Museum.