In June 2008, Professor Dario Alessi and Professor Steve Jackson, both of whom have been supported by AICR, were elected as Fellows of the Royal Society. It is the highest honour a scientist can receive short of a Nobel Prize.
Professor Dario Alessi
Dario Alessi didn’t set out to become a scientist but, he says, studied biochemistry because biology and chemistry were the only two subjects he was any good at! It was at university that he became excited by science and “addicted to it” after realising it was the key to understanding disease and developing better treatments. Dario wanted to study a rare syndrome which causes a predisposition to cancer but to do this he needed funding. He explains “I struggled to get financial backing because of the obscurity of my area of research which was new. AICR was one of only two bodies to support me.”
Based at the University of Dundee, he received two consecutive grants over a six year period. His research into a gene called LKB1 led to the exciting discovery that it is an important regulator of cell growth. Not only does it provide energy for cells to divide, it also switches off this growth preventing inappropriate expansion. However, when LKB1 is damaged, cells have an increasing chance of becoming cancerous. Dario’s work continues to shed light on how LKB1 functions and how this may go wrong in certain types of cancer. His research has had wide ranging ramifications and according to the Royal Society, he is the 13th most cited scientist in the field of biology and biochemistry from 1995-2005. “Without AICR,” says Dario, “I would never have started working on this problem.”
Professor Steve Jackson
As a professor of biology at Cambridge University, Steve Jackson has come along way from the child whom his mother vividly remembers collecting insects and worms. At only eight years old he was determined to become a scientist and has lost none of this passion. “What really motivates me,” he explains, “is learning about how cells work, especially what goes wrong in cancer cells.”
All cells carry a set of coded instructions, called genes, to control their functions. Cancer is caused by certain types of damage to these genes. Cells have a mechanism to try to repair this damage themselves and, if unsuccessful, will make the cell self destruct. Steve has identified a new protein called hnRNP-K which plays a crucial role in this gene damage response system and is now trying to identify other proteins involved in this mechanism. He has contributed much to our understanding of what goes wrong in cells to make them become cancerous and is extremely grateful for the grants he has received. “AICR’s significant support enabled me to get my lab going and to make scientific discoveries as a result. The great thing about the charity is that it is funding the next generation of cancer researchers - I was given my first grant twelve years ago.”
AICR would like to congratulate both Dario and Steve on their Fellowships and we are proud to be associated with such gifted and distinguished scientists.