Professor Xin Lu FRS FMedSci
Professor of Cancer Biology, and Director of the Oxford Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, co-Director of the Cancer Research UK Oxford Centre, NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre Multi-Modal Cancer Therapies Theme Lead and Director of the Oxford Centre for Early Cancer Detection.
Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research, Nuffield Department of Medicine
Tell us a bit About your role
I lead a research group of 19 research staff and graduate students that focuses on identifying the molecular mechanisms that control cellular plasticity and suppress tumour growth. I have a long-standing interest in the regulation of the most mutated tumour suppressor, p53. We were the first group to show how to selectively regulate p53’s tumour suppressive function through our identification of the ASPP family of proteins (ASPP1, ASPP2 and iASPP) as key cellular regulators of p53 and its family members, p63 and p73. By applying our knowledge of cellular plasticity regulation to clinical settings we aim to develop approaches for early detection of cancer, cancer prevention and selective cancer cell killing.
In addition to my research, I have several leadership roles in the University:
I am founder and Director of the Oxford Branch of the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. The Branch comprises 13 research groups with interests in signalling pathways that influence cancer initiation and progression, with a focus on infection, inflammation and cancer epigenetics. We aim to advance cancer prevention, early diagnosis and effective treatment.
I am co-Director of the CRUK Oxford Centre and Leader of the Multimodal Cancer Therapies Theme in the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre. Together, these Centres support a wide range of infrastructure and research in the Oxford cancer community. Importantly, by forging closer links with the Oxford University Hospitals NHS Trust (OUH NHST), we have been able to accelerate the translation of our discoveries in the Medical (and Physical) Sciences to clinical practice.
In 2019, I established and launched the Oxford Centre for Early Cancer Detection (OxCODE), of which I am the Director. OxCODE brings together Oxford’s multidisciplinary expertise in early cancer detection from across the Medical Sciences and MPLS Divisions to increase the scale and scope of this research field.
I earned my BSc from Sichuan University and MSc from Peking Union Medical College, Chinese Academy of Medical Sciences in China. I moved to the UK with a competitive fellowship from the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer. Following my PhD at University College London (UCL) and the former Imperial Cancer Research Fund, and postdoctoral training at Dundee University, I established my independent research group at the Ludwig Institute for Cancer Research. I was appointed as the Director of the Ludwig Institute in London at UCL in 2004. I moved the Ludwig research activities to the University of Oxford and established Ludwig Oxford in 2007.
With my research and leadership roles, I enjoy engaging regularly with the wider Medical Sciences Division. I participate in many fruitful collaborations with others in the Medical Sciences Division and OUH NHST, ranging from fundamental biology, infection and immunology to gastrointestinal diseases, neuroscience and primary care. Through my leadership roles, I help shape the cancer research landscape in Oxford, bringing in the valuable expertise of people who wouldn’t previously class themselves as cancer researchers and promote greater multidisciplinary collaboration between Medical Sciences laboratories for accelerated progress.
What is the most meaningful aspect of your work?
Training the next generation of scientists who work with others to translate their research for patient benefit.
Can you tell us about something you’ve done, contributed to that you’re most proud of?
I feel my contribution to cancer research has two parallel strands: the discoveries made in my own career and lab, for example, the discovery of the ASPPs; and helping to build cancer research excellence in Oxford. I am proud to have helped to develop connections that have inspired new research directions. Starting the Ludwig Branch in Oxford linked our University to an international network of cancer research excellence; through the CRUK Oxford Centre and the Oxford BRC we have found synergies across disciplines, such as imaging and artificial intelligence; and we are connecting basic science to technological advances and patient care through the Oxford Centre for Early Cancer Detection. Connections inspire ideas, and ideas spur progress to benefit patients.
What changes would you most like to see in the Medical Sciences in the next 100 years?
I was fortunate to have many female role models when I was growing up in China and during my early career. It was only later, once I had started my group in the UK, that I realised female PIs were rarer and how lucky I had been to have so many great role models to follow. Athena SWAN has been valuable in raising awareness for women in science in the UK, but we also need to address the lack of ethnic diversity and I hope to see further improvement in Medical Sciences over the coming years. We need the very best scientists of all genders and ethnicities to drive progress, and even after 100 years of women’s degrees at Oxford, there still isn’t enough diversity at the highest levels.
I would also like to see increased diversity in terms of scientific disciplines working together across the medical, physical and social sciences more routinely to tackle the complexity of human health and disease from multiple angles. Only by pooling our collective expertise will we be able to address some of the greatest challenges in Medical Sciences research.