Allan Bradley

Allan Bradley, the former Director of the Sanger Institute, was appointed in 2000 when John Sulston stepped down. He brought the Institute into a new era: studying the biology of genomes. Allan's team specialises in mouse genomics and he led the Institute in the use of model organisms to uncover gene function in health and disease. Under Allan, the Institute developed a scientific portfolio that builds on our status as a world-class sequencing centre and leader in the Human Genome Project, to make discoveries of real benefit to human health. Allan stepped down as Director of the Institute in April 2010 in order to lead a new translation effort and assumed the new title of Director Emeritus. Mike Stratton became the Director.

Allan Bradley and the Mouse Genomics team.

Allan Bradley and the Mouse Genomics team. [Genome Research Limited]


Allan Bradley was selected to replace John Sulston, as Director of the Sanger Centre in October 2000; the appointment coincided with the completion of the working draft of the human genome. Allan felt that the Institute he had inherited from John would provide "unparalleled opportunities for pursuing functional genomics".

John remained at the Institute to continue working towards the completion of the gold standard human genome sequence, published in 2004. Meanwhile, Allan was taking the Institute in a new direction: focusing on genetic analysis of gene function in health and disease. From his appointment, Allan set out to recruit a faculty of researchers who engage in hypothesis-driven science to better our understanding of diseases including heart disease, diabetes, cancer and malaria, bringing biology to the genome sequence produced at the Institute under John Sulston.

Education and career

Allan Bradley received his BA, MA and PhD in Genetics from University of Cambridge. His PhD studies in Martin Evans' laboratory laid the foundation for developing mouse strains that could be used in genetic research. In 1984 Allan Bradley and Liz Robertson demonstrated that embryonic stem (ES) cells could be transmitted through the sperm and egg cells of mice and two years later reported that ES cells could be used to generate new strains of mice with mutations in particular genes. This work contributed to the award of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to Martin Evans in 2007.

In 1987, Allan took up an appointment as an Assistant Professor at Baylor College of Medicine, Houston Texas. He was appointed a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator in 1993 and was promoted to full Professor in 1994. At Baylor, his laboratory played a seminal role in developing the techniques, technology and tools for genetic manipulation in the mouse. As a result, mutated mice can now be generated using a technique called chromosome engineering to alter single bases or construct copy number variations by deletion, duplication or inversion of millions of base pairs. The ability to do this work has provided key functional information on many genes with an emphasis on cancer, DNA repair and embryonic development.

Human embryo revealing the inner cell mass.

Human embryo revealing the inner cell mass. [Yorgos Nikas, Wellcome Images]


Bringing the Sanger Institute into a new era

In 2001, Mike Dexter, then Director of the Wellcome Trust, described Allan Bradley as "a true scientific visionary [who] will now lead the Institute into the post-genomic era".

In 2003, three years into Allan's leadership the International Human Genome Sequencing Consortium announced the completion of the Human Genome Project and the production of a gold standard reference genome. Allan described this achievement as a starting point for discovery, observing, "we have embarked on one of the most exciting chapters of the book of life".

In the publication, in Nature, of the draft human genome, the authors warned that "our ability to transform such information into understanding remains woefully inadequate".

Allan Bradley aimed to build this capacity at the Institute to begin to address this incomplete understanding. Genome sequences are, as they should be, a starting point to understand biology and to benefit health globally.

Mice in straw filled clear plastic box.

Mice in straw filled clear plastic box. [Wellcome Library, London]


Shaping biomedical research at the Sanger Institute

Allan began to establish an infrastructure that would help to achieve his aim to move the Institute into a postgenomic era. To do this he laid out a plan to recruit 20 new Faculty members. These members would bring new hypotheses and scientific expertise to build upon, to enrich and to exploit the human genome. The Faculty has since grown to around 30 research leaders.

Since stepping down from the directorship, Allan continues to run an active research group of students and fellows who use a genetic approach to examine gene function and develop tools and technologies for new mouse genetics and explore gene function on a large scale.

Allan Bradley's legacy

Allan Bradley brought his own scientific expertise to the Institute. Harnessing the Sanger Institute's unique attributes, particularly its ability to conduct biology on a scale unmatched in the UK and perhaps even Europe and the US, Allan led the Institute's researchers in exploiting the genomic sequences of organisms to develop biological understanding and potential healthcare benefits for populations worldwide.

Selected Publications

  • Formation of germ-line chimaeras from embryo-derived teratocarcinoma cell lines.

    Bradley A, Evans M, Kaufman MH and Robertson E

    Nature 1984;309;5965;255-6

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