14 June 2013

Professor Mike Stratton Knighted in the Birthday Honours list

Recognition of research career to understand cancer

Professor Sir Mike Stratton

Professor Sir Mike Stratton [Wellcome Images]

Professor Mike Stratton, Director of the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, was awarded a knighthood in the Queen's Birthday Honours list.

Professor Stratton has led international efforts to understand the genetic changes that cause cancer. In his early work he discovered BRCA2, one of the two major breast cancer susceptibility genes. Analysis of BRCA2 has been used to help hundreds of thousands of women around the world make informed decisions in managing their inherited risk of breast cancer.

Subsequently, he founded the Cancer Genome Project at the Sanger Institute, leading the team that discovered mutations in the BRAF gene in malignant melanoma, which has already led to new treatments for this disease. His research has revealed the scarred landscape of cancer genomes, providing deep insights into the mutational processes that continually bombard DNA and lead to the development of cancer.

Professor Mike Stratton said: "I am thrilled and surprised to be honoured in this way.

"My area of work, exploring the genomes of cancer cells, is in an extraordinarily exciting phase, and this honour, as is usually the case in medical research, in large part recognises the generous contributions of the many colleagues I have worked with in my career.

"Our research to understand the changes in DNA that drive cancer is a partnership of scientists, clinicians, sponsors and patients. We work in the knowledge that incorporating discoveries from cancer genomes into clinical practice is already improving the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer, with much more to come."

Mike qualified in medicine in 1982 and obtained postgraduate qualifications in histopathology, working at the Hammersmith and Maudsley Hospitals. Mike then joined the Institute of Cancer Research, first as a PhD student and then as a Group Leader. Here, he assembled a collaborative group of researchers who located BRCA2 on chromosome 13 in 1994 and then identified the gene itself in 1995.

" I am thrilled and surprised to be honoured in this way. Our research is a partnership in which discoveries from cancer genomes are already improving the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of cancer, with much more to come. "

Professor Mike Stratton

During this research, Mike saw that the emerging sequence from the Human Genome Project would ultimately enable scientists to identify all mutations in cancer genomes and thus all cancer genes. Armed with that vision, Mike joined the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute in 2000 to begin the Cancer Genome Project, the first of its kind worldwide.

In 2002, the team described mutations in the BRAF gene in around 60 per cent of malignant melanomas: each year, there are around 200,000 cases of malignant melanoma worldwide. Treatments based on this discovery are already in clinical practice.

Built on the knowledge that treatments for each cancer should be influenced by the mutations that drive it, Mike and colleagues have been working since 2008 with researchers from the Massachusetts General Hospital to screen 1000 cancer cell lines with hundreds of drugs, searching for the most effective combinations.

The results - the foundation of personalised or stratified treatments - have already begun to inform the design of clinical trials providing early guidance as to which cancers and which mutated genes might be most responsive to new drugs.

In 2009, Mike and colleagues published the first full catalogues of all mutations in two tumours: a lung cancer and a malignant melanoma. The analyses opened the door to a new era of whole cancer genome sequencing and were the first of many thousands that will be produced as part of the International Cancer Genome Consortium.

Sir William Castell, Chairman of the Wellcome Trust, said: "This is deserved recognition of an exceptional individual, a compassionate scientist and clinician who leads a remarkable team who are extending our knowledge of genetics and taking it into medical practice. The Wellcome Trust is proud to support Mike Stratton and the Sanger Institute."

The ability to interrogate cancer genomes is already being examined as a tool to improve diagnosis, prognosis and treatment. Founded in part on Mike's work, our treatment of cancer will be based firmly on the changes to genetic code that underlie these diseases.

Notes to Editors

Mike qualified in medicine at the University of Oxford and Guy's Hospital in 1982 before going on to train as a histopathologist at the Hammersmith and Maudsley Hospitals. Seeing the opportunities to understand causes of cancer through molecular biology, Mike completed a PHD and then took up a Faculty appointment at the Institute of Cancer Research.

Towards the end of the 1990s, while still at the Institute of Cancer Research, the Human Genome Project began to deliver the human genome sequence. Mike saw that systematic, genome-wide approaches to detecting mutations based on the imminent reference human genome sequence could ultimately lead to the identification of all somatic mutations in cancer genomes and thus all cancer genes operative in human cancer. Armed with that vision, in 1999 Mike proposed the concept of a Cancer Genome Project - a project that he envisaged would harness the infrastructure and resources of a large genome centre. In 2000, the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute became home to that project, the first of its kind worldwide, when Mike joined the Institute's Faculty.

Mike was appointed Director of the Institute in May 2010.

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