Francesca Ciccarelli

Cancer Systems Biology Laboratory

Our group aims to understand the role of genetic alterations in human cancer using a combination of computational and experimental approaches.

Our research builds upon the idea that, although genes involved in cancer development (cancer genes) differ functionally, they share intrinsic properties that are not visible when studying each gene individually. We thus engaged in a systems-level analysis of cancer genes in the context of gene and network evolution. We showed that cancer genes encode highly connected and central proteins of the protein-protein interaction network. We also observed that tumour-suppressors and oncogenes differ in their evolutionary properties. Tumour-suppressors are basic and ancient genes that maintain a single-copy status throughout evolution. Oncogenes are instead regulatory genes that originated in metazoans, acquired additional copies in vertebrates and whose dosage is mostly controlled at the post-transcriptional level. Cancer therefore originates from the somatic perturbations of well-defined sections of the system - the central hubs of the network - that are fragile towards modifications and whose dosage is tightly regulated.

We seek to apply this systems-level approach to molecular data from cancer patients and to identify patient-specific cancer genes on the basis of the similarity of their properties with those of known cancer genes. We also use systems-level properties of altered genes to predict cancer dependency, identify cancer vulnerability, and monitor the onset of drug resistance.

We set up and maintain the Network of Cancer Genes, a public resource of manually curated cancer genes (

Finally, we are interested in studying the genomic landscape of cancer, with a particular focus on colorectal and oesophageal cancers. 

Selected Publications 

Cereda M, Mourikis T, Ciccarelli FD Genetic Redundancy, Functional Compensation, and Cancer Vulnerability (2016)Trends in Cancer 4, 160

An A, Dall'Olio GM, Mourikis TP, Ciccarelli FD NCG 5.0: updates of a manually curated repository of cancer genes and associated properties from cancer mutational screenings (2015) Nucl Acid Res 1

Iannelli, Collino, Sinha, Radaelli, Nicoli, D'Antiga, Sonzogni, Faivre, Buendia, Sturm, Thompson, Knisely, Natoli, Ghisletti, Ciccarelli FD  Massive gene amplification drives pediatric hepatocellular carcinoma caused by bile salt export pump deficiency (2014) Nature Comm 5, 3850

D'Antonio, Guerra, Cereda, Marchesi, Montani, Nicassio, Di Fiore and Ciccarelli FD  Recessive cancer genes engage negative genetic interactions with their functional paralogs (2013) Cell Reports 5, 1519-26

D'Antonio and Ciccarelli FD  Integrated analysis of recurrent properties of cancer genes pinpoints novel drivers (2013) Genome Biology 14, R52

Francesca Ciccarelli
+44 (0)20 7848 6616

  • 1998 Master's in Pharmaceutical Chemistry at University of Bologna, Italy
  • 2003 PhD in Natural Science at University of Heidelberg, Germany
  • 2005 Established research group at European Institute of Oncology (IEO), Italy
  • 2014 Associate Professor in Cancer Genomics and Bioinformatics at King's College London, UK
  • 2016 Seconded Principal Investigator at the Francis Crick Institute