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Why doesn't everyone get cancer?


In 1979, David Lane from the Imperial Cancer Research Fund discovered a protein that – when working properly – stops cancers from growing.

While investigating a virus known to cause cancer in rodents, David discovered p53, a protein that usually prevents tumour growth. We now know that p53 is damaged or missing in most human cancers.

Nicknamed the ‘guardian of the genome’, this superhero protein continually monitors our cells. It sounds the alarm when damage is detected, calls in reinforcements and sees off cells that can’t be repaired. The discovery of p53 has sparked many new lines of research, which may lead to game-changing therapies.

p53 protein
p53 protein. Science Photo Library / Alamy Stock Photo 




The Imperial Cancer Research Fund laboratories are now part of the Francis Crick Institute. 

Here, Karen Vousden’s lab studies how p53 operates and how it can be controlled. Some of this research involves developing molecules that could be used to reactivate p53 – and its therapeutic benefits – within tumours. 

Karen Vousden.
Karen Vousden