Summary: I research the genetic epidemiology of melanoma, testis cancer and colorectal cancer. Through teaching and training I have helped foster genetic epidemiology as a distinct discipline in the UK.
Location: Cancer Genetics Building
Teaching Commitments: Contributing lectures to BIOC3900 and the MSc in Statistical Epidemiology
I originally trained in mathematics and statistics and during the course of my PhD developed an interest in the role of genetics, initially focussing on population genetics and the evolution of behaviours. I moved to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City for a post doctoral position within a genetics group interested in the development of biostatistical techniques to investigate the aggregation of disease among related individuals. These studies involved the Mormon settlers in Utah who as part of their religious activities record accurate genealogies which are maintained by the Church. Our research focussed on linking together the population records of these Mormon families together with health records and in particular cancer registration records and death certificates maintained by the State's Division of Health. These techniques confirmed that relatives of individuals with cancer have increased risk of that same cancer, but there were differences linked to the cancer's anatomical site.
In my early career, the capabilities of identifying genetic variation in humans using recombinant DNA technology became possible and the University of Utah was one of the major sites in which such research occurred. We documented how such variability could be assessed in the laboratory using gels (restriction fragment length polymorphisms) and showed the statistical approach by which a genome map could be produced. We then investigated how such maps could be used to facilitate identifying the genetic determinants of susceptibility for families in which there was strong evidence of a dominantly inherited susceptibility. During the 1980s we applied these approaches to try and identify genes for breast cancer and colorectal cancer but the rudimentary maps and the complexity of the inheritance meant that there was no notable success.
Research in Leeds
In 1999 I moved to the University of Leeds employed by the Imperial Cancer Research Fund (now Cancer Research UK) to head a research group in genetic epidemiology with the same focus of identifying genes responsible for cancer susceptibility. The improved maps and technologies meant that during the early 1990s and subsequently there was rapid progress and we were heavily involved in the mapping and identification of genes for breast cancer and colorectal cancer. We documented through various collaborations the contribution of these genes to susceptibility and estimated the risks of cancer among those carrying these mutations.
More recently, I have been responsible for analysis within GenoMEL, the Melanoma Genetics Consortium, and TECAC, the testicular cancer consortium, which are focused on the identification of genes for these important diseases.