Alan Ashworth : Cancer Research UK
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Alan Ashworth

Researcher Alan Ashworth profile image

Understanding the genes that drive breast cancer

Institute of Cancer Research
Chester Beatty Laboratories
237 Fulham Road

Web: Lab website

About Alan Ashworth

Professor Alan Ashworth is Chief Executive of The Institute of Cancer Research (ICR) and leads the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Gene Function team, which is studying how certain faulty genes can increase a person's risk of developing breast cancer. Thousands of women with a strong family history of breast cancer now benefit from research like this, which has enabled doctors to offer them tailored advice, screening and treatment.

Ground-breaking discoveries

Back in the 1990s, Professor Ashworth and other Cancer Research UK scientists led the world in locating a breast cancer gene called BRCA1 and identifying a second called BRCA2. People who inherit faults in either of these genes have a high risk of developing breast and other cancers. Professor Ashworth's team wants to understand exactly how faults in these genes can trigger normal, healthy cells to develop into cancer cells.

More recent work from Professor Ashworth's team, and other scientists, has shown that the protein produced by the BRCA2 gene is involved in DNA repair, meaning it acts together with other proteins to fix mistakes in the cell's genetic material.

This work has been instrumental in the development of a new generation of cancer drugs called PARP inhibitors. These drugs could be a highly effective way to treat breast cancers linked to BRCA genes. PARP inhibitors are already giving promising results in clinical trials, and you can read more about them on our Science Update blog.

Professor Ashworth's team also studies some less well-known genes, including the LKB1 gene and a group of genes called FGFRs. Understanding how faults in these genes can lead to cancer could help the team learn more about how certain cancers develop and find new and better ways to treat the disease.

Improving treatment for breast cancer

Professor Ashworth is involved with the first clinical trial for hereditary breast cancer. This trial aims to find out if platinum-based chemotherapy is more effective for breast cancer patients with faulty BRCA genes than the current standard treatment. The results of this trial could have a great impact on current treatment, and will demonstrate whether cancer treatments can be tailored to a patient's genetic makeup.

Other research projects by Alan Ashworth

Science Committee Programme
Funding period: 01 October 2012 to 30 September 2017

Biological Sciences Committee (BSC) Project Grants
Funding period: 01 July 2012 to 30 June 2015