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Research Fellows Directory

Charles Swanton

Professor Charles Swanton MB PhD BSc FRCP FMedSci

Research Fellow


University College London

Research summary

Our laboratory endeavours to understand the processes generating cancer cell to cell genetic variation in human tumours and the impact of such variation on clinical outcome. We have shown that solid tumours grow like Darwinian evolutionary trees- with mutations present in every cancer cell forming the trunk and mutations in some cells but not others in the tumour branches. Our group have demonstrated that such variation acts as the background upon which Darwinian evolution and natural selection act, resulting in the expansion of fitter cells in the tumour and resulting diversity in lung cancers that acts as a barrier to effective treatment, and the ability of cancers to acquire resistance to cancer drugs.Our laboratory has begun to demonstrate the impact of tobacco exposure upon the mutational burden of lung cancers, and has defined a new mechanism of cancer cell to cell variation that occurs later on in tumour evolution generated by a protein encoded in all our cells that normally acts to restrain and control viral infection called APOBEC. Our group has shown that normal human cells do not tolerate the generation of diversity through genetic mechanisms that act to restrain the growth of unhealthy cells. In cancer we have found these mechanisms become faulty allowing the expansion of diverse cancer cells that ultimately lead to treatment failure and death. By understanding these mechanisms that go awry, we hope to be able to target them to improve their function and restrain evolution and improve clinical outcome. Finally, our findings are shedding light on new therapeutic approaches, including the targeting of multiple mutations present in every tumour cell (the trunk mutations) using the patient's own immune system. We are studying ways in which tumour cells tolerate the generation of such variation.

Interests and expertise (Subject groups)

Grants awarded

Scheme: Royal Society Research Professorship

Dates: Oct 2016 - Sep 2021

Value: £634,210