Crick and Imperial team awarded £2m grant to explore the physics of cancer

Crick group leaders Guillaume Salbreux and Axel Behrens, along with Chris Dunsby from Imperial College London, have been awarded a £2m grant from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC).

Axel Behrens, Guillaume Salbreux and Chris Dunsby

Chris Dunsby, Axel Behrens and Guillaume Salbreux.

The team applied to the first of two calls from the UKRI Physics of Life fund, which supports “internationally leading research that requires collaborative, interdisciplinary working to address key challenges at the interface of physics and the life sciences”.
The work will see the interdisciplinary team building on their complementary skill sets, resulting in an approach that will further the fields of biology, physics and optical engineering. 

They will combine Axel’s expertise in stem cell biology, Chris’ know-how in microscope engineering and Guillaume’s background in theoretical physics to analyse the fundamental cellular processes that underlie how normal and breast cancer organoids (3D masses of cells grown in the lab from stem cells) self-organise. 

Their work will look at how cell fate decisions – how a particular cell ‘decides’ to become one tissue type and not another – combine with the forces generated by cells as they grow to control the establishment and maintenance of both normal and cancerous tissue shapes. 

The award from the EPSRC is a fantastic opportunity that will allow Axel and me to bring the collaboration we started a few years ago, bringing together physics and quantitative analysis with the biology of cancer, in a new direction.
Guillaume Salbreux

Axel and Guillaume have already collaborated on research which led them to study how pancreatic cancer tumours initiate their growth in three dimensions

Upon hearing about the successful outcome of their application, Guillaume Salbreux said: “The award from the EPSRC is a fantastic opportunity that will allow Axel and me to bring the collaboration we started a few years ago, bringing together physics and quantitative analysis with the biology of cancer, in a new direction. Thanks to the new light sheet fluorescence microscopy setup that will be developed by Chris Dunsby, we will be able to progress our understanding of 3D tissue growth in health and disease.”

This UKRI call is led by EPSRC, with support from Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC) and Medical Research Council (MRC). £15 million was available from the UKRI Strategic Priority Fund. 

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