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BCRF Grantee Since


Donor Recognition

The Hard Rock International Award

Area(s) of Focus

Alan Ashworth, PhD, FRS

UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center
Senior Vice President for Cancer Services, UCSF Health
Professor of Medicine, Division of Hematology/Oncology
University of California
San Francisco, CA

Current Research

One of the major challenges in the treatment of breast cancer is the selection of the right treatment for the right patient. Research suggests that the genetic makeup of the tumor in part determines how a patient will respond to treatment. Understanding why some women with breast cancer respond well to their treatment while others do not is critical if we are to improve the lives of those women with the disease. The focus of Dr. Ashworth's BCRF research is to identify those genes in a tumor that modify the tumor cell response to therapy using high-throughput methods of functional genomics, studies that use a variety of experimental methods to look at many genes at a time to understand how various mutations affect tumor cell behavior. His 2014-2015 BCRF project will focus on a applying this technology to new class of targeted drugs called CDK4/6 inhibitors, which have shown promising results in early clinical trials of advanced breast cancer. The goal of this project is to learn how best to predict which patients are most likely to respond to this therapy.


Alan Ashworth FRS, is Professor of Molecular Biology and Leader of the Gene Function team in The Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre. He completed his Bachelor of Science at Imperial College and achieved his PhD in Biochemistry at University College London. He joined the Institute for Cancer Research (ICR) in 1986 as a Postdoctoral Scientist in Cell and Molecular Biology and in 1999 was appointed the first Director of the Breakthrough Breast Cancer Research Centre. Professor Ashworth’s Directorship ended in January 2011 when he took up the position of Chief Executive of the ICR.

One of his major contributions to research has been his work on genes involved in cancer risk. He was a key part of the team that in 1995 discovered the gene BRCA2, linked to increased risk of some types of cancers. Ten years later, Professor Ashworth identified a way to exploit genetic weaknesses in cancer cells including mutated BRCA1 and BRCA2, leading to a new approach to cancer treatment.

His current research reflects his passion for the development of personalized cancer medicine, translating laboratory studies into improved patient care. He is also joint leader, with Professor Tony Swerdlow, of one of the world’s most comprehensive studies of breast cancer causation, the Breakthrough Generations Study.

Professor Ashworth is an elected member of EMBO and the Academy of Medical Sciences and was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society in 2008 for his contributions to mammalian genetics and identification and study of inherited breast cancer susceptibility genes. 

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