Cambridge Research Institute

The Cambridge Research Institute (CRI) is driving the development of new approaches for the early detection, prevention and treatment of cancer.

We work hard to be fully connected with Cambridge’s research environment and the Hospital, both to expand our intellectual base and to ensure that laboratory advances are translated into benefits to cancer patients as quickly as possible.

Professor Sir Bruce Ponder

The CRI is the most recent of five comprehensive research institutes core funded by Cancer Research UK. Housed in the magnificent, custom-built, £50 million Li Ka Shing Centre, the Institute is located on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. With more than 250 scientists in 19 research groups, it is one of the largest cancer research facilities in Europe.

Officially opened in early 2007, the Institute is already internationally acclaimed for the high calibre of its research. ‘We’ve been able to hit the ground running,’ said Director Professor Sir Bruce Ponder, ‘and this is largely because the funding we receive from Cancer Research UK means that we can guarantee salary, staff, laboratory space and core facilities, so the individuals we recruit have minimal interruption to research as they set up their laboratories.’

Group leaders have been carefully chosen with complementary research interests in mind – roughly half are engaged in the study of fundamental aspects of cancer cell biology and half in technology-based or clinical-based research; over a third are clinically qualified. Many of the group leaders hold joint appointments with the Hospital, the University (seven within the Department of Oncology) or research institutes on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus. CRI’s location on the Campus offers outstanding opportunities for such interaction because of its proximity to the Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust (Addenbrooke’s), the University School of Clinical Medicine and its associated institutes, and the Medical Research Council (MRC) Laboratory of Molecular Biology and four MRC Units.

All of these interactions are crucial to the success of the Institute, as Professor Ponder (who is also Head of the Department of Oncology) explained: ‘It’s no good creating a freestanding institute that’s got a ‘moat’ around it – we work hard to be fully connected with Cambridge’s research environment and the Hospital, both to expand our intellectual base and to ensure that laboratory advances are translated into benefits to cancer patients as quickly as possible. The joint appointments really make these interactions work, and is another reason we’ve been able to get off the ground so quickly.’

Recent research highlights include the discovery of precisely why some women develop resistance to the breast cancer drug tamoxifen. Dr Jason Carroll, who leads the Nuclear Receptor Transcription Laboratory, explained: ‘We knew that women developed resistance to tamoxifen but previously our understanding of why this occurred could be compared with trying to fix a broken car without knowing how the engine worked. Now we understand how all the engine parts operate and we can try to think about ways to make repairs.’

Professor Kevin Brindle, who leads the Molecular Imaging Laboratory, has developed a way of scanning the body using magnetic resonance imaging to a level of precision that could be used to detect cancer earlier, as well as for the evaluation and design of novel cancer therapies. Dr David Tuveson has set up a facility in the clinic for treating patients with pancreatic cancer and a matching experimental system in the laboratory to test and refine potential new treatments.

To strengthen cancer research collaborations across Cambridge, a virtual community has arisen with the CRI as its nucleus. The Cambridge Cancer Centre (CCC) forges links between cancer researchers in the biological and physical sciences, clinicians and local biotech companies.

‘CCC creates an environment in which basic research can have a practical application, collaborative projects can be developed, and new interdisciplinary work can be pump-primed,’ said Professor Ponder, who chairs the CCC Steering Committee. ‘We’re now moving into a new phase with the CCC in which we’re identifying collaborative research themes and developing the organisational structures that will help to drive them forward.’

What happens next at the CRI? Research at the Institute will bed down and integrated programmes will continue to develop. The top floor of the Institute is being kept in reserve. ‘In a few years’ time,’ said Professor Ponder, ‘the science at the Institute will have matured to the point where we will be able to make intelligent choices about what we need to add. My colleagues and I believe that we have something really special at the CRI, and I’m delighted to say that the funders and local community share our enthusiasm.’

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Cancer Research UK

Formed in 2002 by the amalgamation of the two largest UK cancer charities – the Cancer Research Campaign and the Imperial Cancer Research Fund – Cancer Research UK continues a century-long history of funding cancer research. Its annual research budget funds the work of over 4500 scientists, doctors and nurses across the UK, including research at a number of specialised institutes and centres. The most recent of the core-funded institutes, the Cambridge Research Institute (CRI), is a flagship research enterprise located on the Cambridge Biomedical Campus.

In 2007–8, Cancer Research UK spent just over £31.5 million on laboratory research and clinical trials in Cambridge; around £17.5 million of this annual research spend provided core funding for the CRI.

Funding by Cancer Research UK covers all aspects of cancer research, from understanding fundamental cancer cell biology to large epidemiology studies across entire populations of people, as well as training the next generation of research scientists. Some examples in Cambridge include:

  • Several programme grants and a significant element of core funding to the Wellcome Trust/Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, where research is helping to uncover what goes wrong when a cell becomes cancerous, by investigating the processes that ensure that cells function correctly during normal development.
  • Funding the two UK arms of the largest study of diet and health ever undertaken – the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition (EPIC) – a long-term study of more than half a million people in 10 European countries. The University of Cambridge manages the Norfolk arm of EPIC, which has recruited more than 30,000 people.
  • Scientists at the Strangeways Research Laboratory and Department of Oncology, who are searching for genes that increase cancer risk and investigating how the effects of the genes combine with lifestyle factors to cause cancer.
  • Cancer Research UK PhD Training Programme in Medicinal Chemistry, a collaborative initiative that brings together research groups with expertise in synthesis chemistry, pharmacology, biochemistry and cancer biology to train synthesis chemists to PhD level (

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